Friday, November 29, 2013, 07:30
Police professionalism makes HK safer
By Paul Surtees

There has been some debate recently, questioning the working methods of the Hong Kong Police Force. In particular, some object to their regularly employing their legally granted stop-and-search powers, stating that in other cities (such as in London) such powers are used far less. There’s a wise old saying that can be applied to this matter: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’’

The crime rate in Hong Kong is (by international standards) comparatively very low, and that excellent situation does not just come about by chance. It occurs here as a Police professionalism makes HK saferdirect result of the near omnipresence, and of the energetic vigilance, of our outstanding police force. This world city of Hong Kong has much to thank them for.

Hong Kong is undeniably one of the safest cities in the world. Here, for example, your grandmother or teenaged daughter can travel home on their own, late at night, on public transport and be completely safe. That enviable situation does not occur in such other world cities as Paris, New York or Cairo.

London, where I used to live, suffers from a crime rate fully 10 times higher than Hong Kong’s. One of the contributing factors to that very unsatisfactory situation is that, outside the downtown areas of central London, you rarely see a police foot patrol. The suburban police in London patrol by car, and that is manifestly less effective than having regular foot patrols by uniformed officers, covering nooks and crannies inaccessible by motor vehicles, as we can commonly see any day or night of the week here, over all Hong Kong.

That obvious police presence on the streets of Hong Kong, immediately available in case of need, serves both to reassure the law-abiding — and also to deter our society’s criminal elements. London’s police need to re-learn the methods and benefits of their long-forgotten foot patrol duties; they could readily pick up a few tips on this from Hong Kong police.

Admittedly, before the advent of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), it is an unfortunate fact of history that the Hong Kong police of those days, decades ago, was a byword for sleaze and corruption. To the eternal credit of those who created the ICAC, they have brought about a sea of change. Nowadays, Hong Kong’s Police Force is generally regarded as the finest and most upstanding in the whole of Asia; indeed one of the most effective and most respected police forces in the world.

It speaks volumes about the high levels of professionalism, and of well-trained proper conduct, that Hong Kong police officers manage to control crime so effectively here, without being a police state, such as Nazi Germany. In many other jurisdictions, even law-abiding citizens are afraid of their police. In some of them, but thankfully not here, you might be beaten up by the police as readily as being searched by them. In Hong Kong, it is only the criminals who have anything to fear from our police; and even when handling them, the police here follow the established rules scrupulously to avoid abuse.

Every city of this world, and I have lived in many of them, can potentially be unsafe for law-abiding citizens, with muggings, robberies, even murders occurring all-too regularly. That means that decent people fear to go to certain city areas, or to go out at night. That we do not have in Hong Kong such “no-go’’ areas is because of the effectiveness of our police force. Many new residents here tell me they have never lived anywhere safer in the world. That welcome fact is sometimes taken for granted, but needs to be appreciated for the great benefit it represents, and the credit for it given where it is due.

Turning to those commonly seen local stop-and-search operations, have they not contributed to Hong Kong’s comparative street safety? The complaint that Hong Kong has more of them than occur in London or elsewhere can be seen for the absurdity that it is — probably the lack of such searches in London, added to the lack of police foot patrols there, are key factors in the statistic that Hong Kong has only 10 percent of London’s crime rate!

Clearly, something is happening here that keeps the local crime rates low; that something is the activity of the members of Hong Kong’s hard-working police force. Let us thank them for making this world city, arguably, the very safest world city that exists on Earth!

The author is a Hong Kong-based commentator, who has worked in more than 30  other countries. He is an adviser to the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind and the Founder of the non-profit-making pan-Commonwealth NGO, the Royal Over-Seas League’s Hong Kong Branch.