chapter  8
The police force
Pages 20

In many ways, the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) can be regarded as one of the world’s finest police organisations. Surveys show that the public generally regard the HKPF as free of serious corruption, as professional, efficient and effective in maintaining law and order in Hong Kong (OffBeat, 2012). However, this has not always been the case. The HKPF was once a target of public hatred (Grant, 1992: 70). The HKPF has not become complacent over its present achievements, but strives to move forwards in order to keep abreast of the changing demands of Hong Kong society. How has the HKPF developed into what it is today, and what are the prospects of it moving further ahead? This chapter attempts to address these questions. We begin by explaining how the HKPF, formed soon after Hong Kong

became a British colony in 1841, was established along the lines of the classic colonial paramilitary model. Just as the character of the colonial regime remained essentially unchanged up to the early 1970s, the HKPF retained its colonial paramilitary nature throughout the entire period. In the early 1970s, Britain changed the style of colonial governance, as a result of which policing reform was implemented in the mid-1970s. The law enforcement or anti-crime policing function, previously neglected, began to acquire increasing prominence. However, the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 1974, as part and parcel of the overall reforming of the HKPF, undermined the HKPF organisationally, as well as damaging police morale. In 1977, a police ‘mutiny’ against the ICAC erupted, in the aftermath of which corruption offences prior to 1977, with rare exceptions, were generally pardoned. Despite the pardon, corruption as a way of life in the HKPF was gone forever. The pardon allowed the HKPF to recuperate and continue to reorient itself to becoming, by the mid-1980s, a professional force employing coercive tactics in maintaining law and order. Political developments in the late 1980s and since, however, have impelled the

HKPF to abandon its previous strong-arm public order maintenance tactics. In the mid-1990s, under the impact of the radical reforms of the last colonial

governor, Chris Patten, the HKPF launched its strategy of transforming itself into a ‘service of quality’. This strategy has been maintained up until the present, despite Patten’s departure, in the context of political and socio-political developments since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Throughout the period of almost continuous reorientation of the HKPF

from the mid-1970s until today, the HKPF has emphasised the importance of maintaining its paramilitary capabilities and hard anti-crime tactics. We argue that the maintenance of these capabilities and tactics, generally supported by all and sundry in Hong Kong, is conducive to the retention of a traditional police culture, which does not serve to facilitate the HKPF’s attempt to reorient itself into a ‘service of quality’. On the other hand, however, in the context of the above-mentioned political and socio-political developments, in terms of daily street patrolling and the policing of public order events, the HKPF’s approach has indeed become service oriented. Furthermore, as a result of what we call the ‘governability’ crisis in Hong Kong since 1997, police authority at street level has been significantly eroded. Thus, the HKPF today and its future developmental trajectory are pulled by contradictory forces. It is still highly effective in maintaining law and order. However, whereas the top brass is committed to the service strategy, there is evidence that a significant number of experienced frontline police still steeped in traditional values are demoralised due to the erosion of street-level police authority, while under these circumstances, the development of a strong sense of organisational and professional commitment among new recruits appears to be encountering some difficulties. Finally, the first edition of this book was published in 2008; for this second edition, we add an addendum at the end of this chapter to take into account developments between 2008 and mid-2015.