Representatives of rank-and-file police have delivered an unprecedented snub to force top brass as resentment grows over the handling of last week’s street violence in Mong Kok in which almost 100
officers were injured.
The Sunday Morning Post has discovered that at the end of a 90-minute meeting called by Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung to hear their concerns over decisions taken during 10 hours of rioting, the heads of all four police staff associations refused to pose for a “display of unity’’ photograph with the police chief and his top deputies.
According to a number of officers of different ranks and experience who have spoken to the Post, the “unity photo” incident reveals worrying levels of discontent within the 28,000-strong force whose morale has taken a battering since the Occupy protests of 2014.
READ MORE: Angry Hong Kong police criticise ‘feeble’ senior management over Mong Kok riot arrangements
One long-serving officer, who requested anonymity, said “stunned’’ rank-and-file police could not accept the explanations force bosses gave and were sceptical about a promised “review’’ to find out what went wrong, believing it to be a “whitewash’’.
Police Commissioner Lo cancelled his holiday to meet officers injured in last week’s violence and to convene the meeting to address a feeling among officers that different calls over tactics and equipment could have prevented so many officers being injured.
“I wouldn’t say this is a force in crisis, this is a force in serious crisis. We need the senior management, the government and the public to back us and let us do our job.
“That is, enforce the law in Hong Kong, regardless of who breaks it, be they rioters or so-called ‘outside agents’,’’ the officer said in reference to allegations that at least one SAR bookseller was removed from the city and taken to the mainland by security officials linked to Beijing without notifying the Hong Kong police.
Officers who have spoken to the Post also expressed a lack of confidence in the promised review of the riot which forced an exposed traffic officer to fire two rounds of live ammunition into the air as he faced a violent mob.
“The long-serving officer added: “An internal review of operations – an ‘After Action Review’ – has still not been completed and circulated internally after how many months. How can we have faith this one will be any better?”
Another officer, with more than 25 years in the force, said: “Taken alone, the events in Mong Kok are perhaps not a huge deal. But add the events of Occupy Central and far more importantly the bookseller ‘abductions’, whether through physical or through mental pressure, and the force is facing significant issues. It would be fair to say that morale is now very, very low.”
“I don’t think the present commissioner is to blame, as much of what has caused this has been beyond his control. He is restrained in what he can do or can’t do to help the lives of police officers by this administration.
“In fact, I think you’ll find the present [commissioner] gets a fairly high rating from his colleagues,’’ said the officer.
As well as the police staff associations and police chief Lo, deputy commissioners Tony Wong Chi-hung, Sonny Au Chi-kwong and Alan Lau Yip-shing, and assistant commissioner for personnel Chris Tang Ping-keung were also in attendance.
On Friday, after the talks at police headquarters in Admiralty, Junior Police Officers’ Association chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong said: “We discussed the tactics and equipment used in our operations [on Monday night], and also the morale issues.”
READ MORE: Hong Kong police chief fails to quell anger of frontline officers at talks on Mong Kok riot tactics
He said Lo had invited staff representatives to take part in the review, without saying when scrutiny would be completed.
Deputy commissioner for operations Tony Wong told the meeting the size of the mob, insufficient manpower and the time it took to bring in reinforcements made the situation bad.
Meanwhile, two men and two women from an environmental group who were arrested on Thursday for possession of offensive weapons linked to the violence have been released on bail pending further police investigations.
Police seized 18 knives, metal rods, wooden sticks, hammers, a toy gun, gloves and chemicals in a unit of an industrial building in Kwai Chung, last week. However the group claimed there had been a misunderstanding, as they had collected the items to recycle.