A charm offensive by Hong Kong’s top police officer has failed to quell simmering anger among his rank and file officers over top-level decisions they claim led to scores of frontline
Four days after nearly 100 police officers were hurt in 10 hours of street violence when a protest against a crackdown on street hawkers degenerated into a riot, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung and his top deputies yesterday met representatives of the 28,000 officers under their command.
But after a meeting yesterday morning at lasting almost 90 minutes the grievances put forward by the force’s four staff associations remained and a promised review of what happened on the night was described by one officer – who insisted on anonymity – as “empty talk”.
Later in the day a visit by Lo to Kowloon West Traffic Headquarters to boost morale received a lukewarm response. One officer who attended told the Post that Lo spent most of the time explaining himself and there was little time for questions.
“Lo said he had never handled riots before and we should learn from what had just happened ... and told us to stop saying bad things about him,” she said.
Another top police source with directorate rank admitted to the Post that the commissioner’s leadership could be undermined.
It is understood that Lo has cancelled his holidays and called an immediate meeting to address a deepening feeling among officers that different calls over tactics and equipment could have prevented so many officers being injured in some of the worst street violence in Hong Kong’s recent history.
Junior Police Officers’ Association chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong said after the meeting that frontline staff had informed management of their views.
“We discussed the tactics and equipment used in our operations [on Monday night], and also the morale issues,” Chan told the media.
READ MORE: Angry Hong Kong police criticise ‘feeble’ senior management over Mong Kok riot arrangements
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 Chi-hung told the meeting that the size of the mob, the insufficient manpower and the time it took to bring in reinforcements combined to make a bad situation.
As a result, an exposed traffic officer was forced to fire two warning shots into the air, further inflaming the crowd, according to an officer at the meeting.
“Lo also pointed out the strong support received from the public after the incident, which has formed a firm basis for stringent action to be taken in any similar incident in the future.”
Some angry frontline officers were not convinced by their boss. “Surely it is better than nothing. But Lo should have done it right after his visit to the injured fellows in hospitals on Tuesday, not four days after,” one officer told the Post.
Another officer echoed his view: “A review without a deadline means empty talk. We want to know who should be responsible for the poor tactics and an immediate improvement in terms of gear and tactics.
“He is too nice to be a commissioner, honestly.”
Lo later said in a statement that he “took the initiative” to meet frontline staff and responded positively to the aspirations of staff representatives.
But a top police source told the Post that the force should not underestimate the internal morale challenge, and “any attempt to take it light will only undermine the commissioner’s leadership”.
Collectively, the four staff associations represent all of the force’s 28,000 men and women in uniform, from police constables to senior commanders.
The Post earlier reported that much of the growing anger among officers was the refusal of their bosses to allow the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to keep the mob at bay.
“The feeling is that this refusal led in significant part to so many officers being hurt,” a security source told the Post.
Meanwhile, all disciplined force chiefs issued a joint statement to express their strongest condemnation towards the violence in the Mong Kok riot and deepest support for police’s enforcement.
Additional reporting by Eddie Lee