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Friday, May 5, 2017, 22:32

All front-line police set to carry body cameras

By Luis Liu in Hong Kong

All front-line police set to carry body cameras
Policemen block access to the bank during the eviction process of "Occupy" protesters at the HSBC bank headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept 11, 2012. (AFP)

Hong Kong police on Friday said it planned to equip all front-line officers with body cameras by 2021 to improve the collection of evidence and to help ease situations during police-civilian conflicts.

The force would buy 270 cameras in the next few months, Assistant Commissioner Patrick Hodson told a Legislative Council Security Panel meeting.

The police currently have 1,390 such cameras for officers in the Emergency Units, Police Tactical Unit and various police districts, according to police data.

Equipping police officers with a body camera has become a common practice around the world

Body-worn recording devices have been used in “confrontational situations” since 2013, according to Undersecretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu.

"In cases of assaults or deliberate obstruction of officers carrying out their duties, relevant footage will serve as important evidence for convictions,” He said.

Police said up to March this year 724 pieces of footage were recorded during 493 incidents, of which 172 were used in investigations or submitted to courts as evidence.

Meanwhile, about 80 to 90 percent of the recordings had helped calm situations and had stopped people from overreacting, Lee said.

"In view of the cameras’ effectiveness, the police plan to gradually extend the use of them so that each front-line police officer could be equipped with a body camera by about 2021,” he said.

The police force had 28,000 members by last year, according to police statistics.

Responding to queries over the fairness of using the videos, Lee stressed that technically police would rule out the possibility of abusing the recordings. Police officers would not be able to delete or edit the videos recorded by their body-worn cameras as a security bar would seal the memory card, Lee said.

All documents will be processed by a select group of colleagues, Lee added.

Equipping police officers with a body camera has become a common practice around the world. Britain was the first to embrace the new technology. In 2006, British police started to deploy the devices at a national level.

Also using such technology in daily operations were police forces in the United States, Canada, Germany, France and the Chinese mainland.

The move is also expected to help lower the number of cases where people insult police officers.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said this might give the city a chance to improve police-civilian relationships - making the police-insulting legislation less necessary.

He was speaking after a group of legislators from legal sector proposed making it an offense in Hong Kong for people to insult police officers and other law enforcement officers.

Under the proposed Public Order (Amendment) Bill, anyone who uses abusive language, behaves in an insulting manner, or displays insulting slogans against officers could be fined up to HK$2,000. Repeat offenders could face a higher fine, or even 12 months in prison.

One of the lawmakers behind the bill, Barrister Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, said she hoped an initial fine would be enough to deter people from insulting officers.

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