Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 742
(The minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref. : CB2/PL/SE/1

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Minutes of Special Meeting held on Monday, 17 November 1997 at 4:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon CHENG Kai-nam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon KAN Fook-yee
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon Allen LEE, JP]
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP] away from Hong Kong
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho]
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP]
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM]

Hon Henry WU]
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung] other commitments
Hon CHAN Choi-hi ]
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP]

Public Officers attending :

Mr Raymond WONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 1

Mr Philip CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security E

Mr A J Mullins
Director of Personnel and Training
Hong Kong Police Force

Regional Commander (Hong Kong Island)
Hong Kong Police Force

Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime)
Hong Kong Police Force

Mr Eddie LI Kam-wah
Senior Police Clinical Psychologist
Hong Kong Police Force

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Miss Salumi CHAN
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1

I.Force's policy on handling police officers with mental problems and related issues
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 607(01))

Opening remarks by the Chairman

1.The Chairman remarked that the special meeting was held to discuss the policy matters arising from a recent incident in which a police officer on duty shot and killed a citizen under investigation in the Aberdeen Police station. She reminded members to focus discussion on the policy aspects. As the Police officer concerned had been charged for murder, any discussion on the case might prejudice the legal proceedings.

Briefing by the Administration

2.Deputy Secretary for Security 1 and Director of Personnel and Training, Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) remarked that this shooting incident was a most regrettable one. It was a tragedy for the deceased, his family and the Police officer involved. The Administration expressed its deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of the deceased.

3.Director of Personnel and Training, HKPF advised that the Force management took a very serious view of the incident bearing in mind its impact on the public as well as members of the Force. It was committed to taking steps to ensure that similar incidents would not happen again. The Commissioner of Police had directed a full review of the management of officers who had encountered psychological problems. The review aimed to ascertain the adequacy of current procedures and the psychological counselling services provided to Police officers with a view to identifying areas for improvement. The review would be chaired by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Personnel who would invite senior medical professionals from the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority to contribute to the review.

4.Director of Personnel and Training, HKPF also briefed members on the Administration's information paper on Police procedures and safeguards on the handling of suspects, handling of officers under stress or with psychological problems and the counselling services available to them. He pointed out that the procedures were designed to ensure that all members of the Police Force were physically and mentally competent to undertake their duties and also to look after the well-being of the officers concerned. Serious cases of psychological disorder were very rare and would be referred to medical professionals of the Hospital Authority for treatment and, where necessary, followed by assessment by a Medical Board.

Handling of suspectsQuestioning of suspects

5.Responding to Mr LAU Kong-wah, Regional Commander (Hong Kong Island), HKPF advised that normally, a suspect taken to a Police station would be questioned by the same Police officer who had stopped and arrested him. If the Police officer had evidence which would afford reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person had committed an offence, he would pass the case to the duty officer of the Police station who had to consider whether the arrest was lawful and the charge was supported by credible evidence.

6.Responding to Mr IP Kwok-him, Regional Commander (Hong Kong Island), HKPF advised that normally, each suspect would be questioned by one Police officer. Whether more Police officers would be deployed to assist would depend on the circumstances of individual cases.

7.Mr LAU Kong-wah queried whether it was necessary and appropriate for Police officers to carry arms when questioning suspects. Moreover, he considered that such practice might pose danger to the Police officer concerned if the suspect was stronger than him. Director of Personnel and Training and Regional Commander (Hong Kong Island), HKPF pointed out that carriage of arms were not the same as use of arms. The Police Force had very stringent orders and procedures governing the carriage and use of arms. Any use of arms or even drawing of arms was very strictly controlled and subject to investigation . The Regional Commander concerned would ensure that the drawing of arms complied with the internal orders and procedures.

The right of the suspect to contact his lawyer and/or family

8.Members noted from paragraph 3(g) of the Administration's information paper that one of the principles governing the handling and questioning of suspects was that every person at any stage of an investigation should be able to communicate and to consult privately with a lawyer, provided that in such a case no unreasonable delay or hindrance was caused to the process of investigation or the administration of justice by his doing so. Responding to Mr IP Kwok-him, Principal Assistant Secretary for Security E said that what would be considered as causing " unreasonable delay or hindrance " would depend on the circumstances of individual cases. However, Police officers must comply with No. 8(b) of the " Rules and Directions for the Questioning of Suspects and the Taking of Statements' (Annex to the Administration's information paper), otherwise the prosecution might be subject to the challenge of the court.

9.Deputy Secretary for Security 1 added that the Administration had announced in June 1997 that it would implement over the next three years a package of 51 improvement measures proposed by an inter-departmental working group on the Law Reform Commission Report on Arrest. One of the improvement measures was to publish the Police powers and procedures relating to stop, search, arrest and detention to enable members of the public to fully understand their rights and obligations. If they were not satisfied with the Police's action, they could lodge their complaints to the Complaints Against Police Office.

10.The Chairman considered that Police officers should exercise their power with caution so that they would not use " causing unreasonable delay or hindrance to the process of investigation " as an excuse to forbid the suspects from communicating with their lawyers and/or families. Whilst appreciating that the Police might be concerned that the suspects would make use of the opportunity to get in touch with his collaborators instead of his lawyers and/or families, the Chairman considered that the Police could take some measures, such as checking on the relevant telephone numbers. Mr IP Kwok-him suggested that the relevant details of making phone calls by a suspect during retention be recorded.Adm

Improvements to Police procedures in handling suspectsVideo-taping of interviews with suspects

11.Responding to some members' enquiries, Deputy Secretary for Security 1 advised that the Administration would provide funding for the expansion of the use of video-interviewing of suspects. Actions were in hand to increase the number of Police video interviewing facilities from 11 to 20 in the 1997/98 financial year. Funding had been earmarked to set up another 20 in the 1998/99 financial year. The Administration intended to set up a video interviewing facility at each Police station as soon as possible and was considering the feasibility of providing additional funding for the Police to advance its implementation plan. Members strongly urged for the early completion of the plan.

Management of Police officers with stress or psychological problemsEstablishment of the Police Psychological Service Group (PSG)

12.Members noted that the PSG consisted of one Senior Police Clinical Psychologist and two Police Clinical Psychologists (PCP) and that one post of PCP had been vacant since August 1997. They queried whether the PSG could, with such a small establishment, provide adequate services to Police officers. Director of Personnel and Training, HKPF advised that this subject would be covered by the review. Senior Police Clinical Psychologist said that though the resources available were limited, the PSG had always tried its best to provide suitable training to Police officers on stress management and counselling services to those in need.

13.Deputy Secretary for Security 1 added that the Police Force comprised 28,000 officers but not all of them required psychological counselling service. Apart from the PSG, counselling services were provided by one Welfare Officer and three Assistant Welfare Officers in each Police region. Staff Relations Officers at Chief Inspector level in each District were also given basic training in counselling and interviewing techniques. Moreover, the PSG would refer those officers with serious mental health problems requiring psychiatric assistance to professional staff in the Hospital Authority or, if requested, to qualified private practitioners.

Provision of counselling service

14.Responding to Mr LAU Kong-wah, Senior Police Clinical Psychologist said that the time required for a counselling session depended on the complexity of individual cases and the mental state of the Police officers concerned. Normally, the PSG would reserve one hour for a counselling session with an " old " client and an appropriate length of time for a new client, depending on the nature of his case. Nevertheless, flexible arrangements would be made whenever necessary to deal with urgent cases.

15.Responding to Mr LAU Kong-wah, Senior Police Clinical Psychologist said that the PSG adopted a multi-disciplinary approach in handling the relevant cases. For example, those cases involving widow and children who had housing problems would require the assistance of the Welfare Officers. Those cases where the Police officers concerned required psychiatric assistance would, with their consent, be referred to the professional staff in the Hospital Authority. However, such cases might not necessarily be serious cases. For example, a Police officer who could not cope with the sudden death of his close relative/friend might require psychiatric assistance. His case, though not serious, would be referred to the Hospital Authority with his consent.

Number of Police officers seeking assistance voluntarily

16.Responding to some members' enquiries, Senior Police Clinical Psychologist clarified that in 1996, there were a total of 166 Police officers who sought assistance from the PSG, 53% of whom approached the PSG voluntarily while the remaining 47% were referred to the PSG either by the supervisors of the Police officers concerned, or by Welfare Officers or Staff Relations Officers. To a certain extent, the 53% indicated that Police officers were willing to seek assistance from the PSG.

17.In response to Mr MA Fung-kwok's enquiry, Senior Police Clinical Psychologist advised that a majority of the 53% of cases involved job-related problems, health problems or personal problems. Over the past four years, most of the cases handled by the PSG were not very serious and only 15.03% involved problems which met the clinical standard.

18.Mr MA Fung-kwok pointed out that 53% of 166 Police officers was only about 87. This was a small figure when compared with the size of the Police Force and the overall population of Hong Kong. According to the Administration, Police officers with mental problems were documented on the Central Index of Health Impaired Officers maintained at Police Headquarters. They were closely monitored at local level within their own formation. Mr CHENG Kai-nam and Mr MA Fung-kwok were concerned that some Police officers might be reluctant to approach the PSG voluntarily, fearing that it might jeopardise their promotion prospects. Senior Police Clinical Psychologist advised that though there had not been any significant increases on the number of new cases handled by the PSG in the recent years, the number of counselling sessions had increased steadily as follows :

YearNo. of counselling sessions
1997(Jan to Oct)899

19.Director of Personnel and Training, HKPF added that part of the review was to recommend procedures to clearly identify high risk category of officers and also to provide a system to encourage Police officers with problems to come forward voluntarily.

20.The Chairman shared the concern of Mr CHENG Kai-nam and Mr MA Fung-kwok. To ease the worries of Police officers, she asked whether the PSG would encourage them to seek assistance from the qualified private practitioners. Senior Police Clinical Psychologist advised that the PSG would do so upon request of individual officers.

Providing professional care to the high risk category of officers

21.Mr IP Kwok-him suggested the Administration to focus its resources in providing professional care to the high risk category of officers. Deputy Secretary for Security 1 advised that for officers who had been involved in an " open fire " incident, it was mandatory for them to attend a counselling session. Counselling was also offered to officers who had been involved in major disasters or operations which might have a traumatic effect such as the Garley Building fire in 1996. Senior Police Clinical Psychologist added that it was not advisable to focus attention on the high risk category as minor cases of mental disturbance might develop into serious cases over time and therefore required long term observation.

Policy on officers with psychological problems carrying arms

22.Members were concerned whether it was appropriate for Police officers with psychological problems to carry arms. Mr Bruce LIU suggested that those Police officers who had been referred to the Hospital Authority for psychiatric assistance should be suspended from carrying arms unless his Police Commander, based on the recommendation of the PSG, considered that he was fit to do so. Deputy Secretary for Security 1 pointed out that not all of those cases referred to the Hospital Authority were serious cases. For example, some minor cases such as insomnia were referred to the Hospital Authority for the appropriate prescription as the psychologists in the PSG were not medical practitioners and therefore not in a position to prescribe medicine. Senior Police Clinical Psychologist added that the PSG would assess the fitness of each of its clients to carry arms, not just those referred to the Hospital Authority. If the PSG had any doubt on an officer's fitness to carry arms, an immediate recommendation would be made to his Police Commander. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Senior Police Clinical Psychologist advised that it was not uncommon for the PSG to make such recommendations.

23.Mr LAU Kong-wah said that pending the outcome of the review, the Administration should consider taking some short-term measures to handle cases referred to the Hospital Authority, apart from those minor cases such as insomnia. One of the possible measures was to deploy the Police officers concerned to perform non-front line duties. Deputy Secretary for Security 1 noted his view and advised that the Administration would consider the way forward after the completion of the review.

Notifying the family of the person concerned.

The Chairman noted that the family of the deceased of the recent shooting incident was aggrieved at not being informed promptly by the Police of what had happened. Regional Commander (Hong Kong Island), HKPF responded that it took time for the Police to verify the status of the person involved in the incident and to confirm who were his family members. The Police had, indeed, informed the family as soon as practicable. The Chairman pointed out that similar complaints were not uncommon. The way in which the incident was handled gave the public the perception of a possible cover-up by the Police. This would have a negative impact on the image and integrity of the Police Force. She requested the Administration to look into the matter and identify ways for improvement. Director of Personnel and Training, HKPF agreed but pointed out that it would not form part of the full review.Adm

II.Close of meeting

24.The meeting ended at 6:10 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
28 November 1997