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Published: 01:40, September 12, 2023 | Updated: 10:04, September 12, 2023
Professional policing: HKPF shows British counterparts the way
By Grenville Cross
Published:01:40, September 12, 2023 Updated:10:04, September 12, 2023 By Grenville Cross

Since at least the 1980s, the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) has been known as “Asia’s Finest”, and it is not hard to see why. In 2019-20, for example, during the insurrection, it demonstrated valor of the highest order, reacting to months of “black-clad” violence with both firmness and restraint.

As its young and largely untested front-line officers confronted crazed mobs armed with petrol bombs, machetes, slingshots and other improvised weaponry, they bravely stood their ground, seeking, wherever possible, to de-escalate tensions.

Only when this failed did they resort to force, and, even then, it was highly restrained. Whereas only a handful of rioters sustained any injuries, nobody was killed (the only fatality being caused by the rioters). This, given their ferocity, was remarkable, and Hong Kong owes its police officers a lasting debt of gratitude.

Although the anti-China forces, egged on by their Western backers, hoped to wreck the “one country, two systems” policy and provoke Beijing into a military intervention, they reckoned without the HKPF’s fortitude, and the city survived.

This, however, earned the force the lasting enmity of those Western politicians who sympathized with the insurrectionists and wished China ill. They had hoped to weaken China by wrecking Hong Kong, but their machinations came to nothing. In frustration, they lashed out, demanding punitive measures against Hong Kong and its officials, and they have sought to demonize its Police Force ever since.

In the UK, for example, the former foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, claimed that “public trust in the Hong Kong police is at an all-time low”. The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, Alistair Carmichael, accused the Police Force of “failing to observe international standards”. And the former governor, Chris Patten, who once professed a love for Hong Kong but has now become a ranting ideologue, alleged the force was falling “far below its former standards”, which could not be further from the truth.

Having saved Hong Kong from death and destruction, the HKPF has earned the admiration of right-thinking people everywhere. It has continued to provide the city with professional policing, and Hong Kong remains one of the safest places in Asia, if not the world. Its Police Force is highly efficient and has modernized its processes in the best interests of the residents it serves.

The HKPF’s anti-crime strategies are carefully honed and envied elsewhere, and are proving effective in all areas, including cybercrime. Its detection rates are encouraging, with, for example, a 100 percent detection rate for rapes and 80.9 percent for indecent assaults in 2022, and an overall rate that year of 35.2 percent (high by global standards). The force maintains a high-profile presence on the streets, and it rightly sees this as a vital element of successful policing, not least because it deters criminals and gives the public confidence.

In comparison, anybody who has visited the UK’s cities and towns recently will know that the sight of police officers patrolling the streets is almost as rare as a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster. This helps to explain why crime in England and Wales has surged over the pre-coronavirus levels, with the 6.7 million crimes recorded in the year ending March 2023 being 11 percent higher in comparison with the year ending March 2020 (6.1 million offenses).  

The HKPF, moreover, has established good relations with community leaders, and is trusted by those with whom it deals. Its beat officers are invariably helpful, and visitors commend their courtesy. The force exercises its powers objectively, without fear or favor, and its officers avoid political gesturing. Although the force, like its counterparts elsewhere, can have no truck with those who want to subvert the city and harm the country, it is evenhanded in the discharge of its duties.

In the UK, however, the situation is completely different, and policing is now in serious trouble. On Sept 1, Yvette Cooper, who is expected to become home secretary (interior minister) if the Labour Party wins next year’s general election, said, “Criminals have never had it so good,” with the country’s towns and cities having become “safe havens for thousands more criminals who just aren’t being caught”. 

Her remarks were prompted by Home Office data, which showed the police were failing to solve more than 90 percent of crimes, the highest on record (in 2015 the figure was 74.8 percent). An analysis of the official figures showed that over 6,000 criminals a day were getting away with offenses as the police failed to identify any of the suspects involved.

Indeed, 2.25 million cases were dropped by the police in 2022 because they could not find any suspects. This figure included 1.5 million thefts, 330,000 violent crimes, 320,000 cases of criminal damage and arson, and over 30,000 sex offenses. Crimes in which no suspects were identified represented 40 percent of all cases, an increase of 250,000 in the number of cases dropped for the same reason in 2021.

By any yardstick, the policing system in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own arrangements and their own problems) is broken, as the home secretary, Suella Braverman, recognizes, and this is partly because of its politicization.

On Sept 2, she told The Daily Telegraph that public confidence in the police was being “eroded and needlessly damaged” because officers were becoming “politicized” and “partisan”. This clearly affects internal morale, and deters potential recruits. She also disclosed that she had ordered a high-level investigation into the “unacceptable rise” in the police taking sides on controversial issues.

Braverman was worried that because the police were “pandering to politically correct causes”, they were being distracted from fighting crime, and the statistics bear this out. She explained, “In recent years, we’ve seen an unacceptable rise in police partisanship and the police straying into politically contested areas.”

Strangely, Raab, Carmichael and Patten, always so vocal about the HKPF, have had little or nothing to say about any of this, even though it is occurring on their own patch. 

What particularly irked Braverman was that police officers were referring to rapists as “she” or “her”, and even “taking the knee” at Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Amazingly, police officers had also been filmed dancing with protesters, sloganizing on their faces, uniforms and vehicles, and flying flags at “gay pride” parades, causing Braverman to conclude that “some of these examples are having an insidious effect on public confidence”. If she had not confirmed that British police officers were behaving so reprehensibly, people elsewhere would not have imagined it could possibly be true.

The sad truth is that the 43 police forces of England and Wales, once famed for their reassuring “Dixon of Dock Green” image, have been seriously contaminated by political correctness and twisted wokery, and this has come at the expense of effective (and just) policing. To her credit, Braverman, who is relatively new to her job, has recognized the scale of the problem and is trying to turn things around.

She has emphasized that the police should not appease politically contested views, and that “in no instance” is it biologically or legally right for a rapist to be described as a “she”, as some police forces have been doing. (In one grotesque case in Scotland, sadly representative of a national malaise, a convicted double rapist, Adam Graham, who announced he was a woman, Isla Bryson, was then imprisoned in a women’s prison, although the decision, which came straight out of the madhouse, was reversed after an outcry over the safety of the other prisoners.)  

Only time will tell if it is too late for Braverman to halt the rot. Still, she has at least warned police forces against describing themselves as “institutionally racist” (many “woke” officers believe, undoubtedly correctly, that if they make claims of this sort, it will advance their careers). She said, “When I see police chiefs at some forces declaring that they are institutionally racist, I think they should be more concerned about tackling knife crime, catching burglars and stopping anti-social behavior”. Anybody in their right mind would agree.

Braverman, however, has her work cut for her, as the police forces for which she is responsible are often little short of basket cases. They are not only letting the public down and failing to catch criminals, but are also obsessed with political posturing. It is a far cry from the days when the British police were renowned for their dependability and professionalism, and were a role model for police forces everywhere.

Instead, therefore, of pontificating hypocritically over Hong Kong’s highly professional police force, the likes of Raab, Carmichael and Patten should be demanding that their own house be put in order, however difficult. They should be coming out in support of Braverman as she tries to fix a policing system that everybody can see has lost its way.

Although Braverman may have taken on a “mission impossible”, she should study foreign models, as they can show how police forces should be run. She could, for example, learn much from the HKPF, whose sterling record will teach her all she needs to know about modern policing. Even if this causes Raab, Carmichael and Patten to choke on their cornflakes, it will be a price worth paying if she is serious about restoring credibility to the police forces of England and Wales. 

The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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