For information
17 November 1997

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Police Procedures in Handling Suspects and the Management of Officers with Psychological Problems


The Government is fully aware of the community concern over the recent shooting incident which occurred inside a Police station. The incident is being investigated thoroughly and impartially. The Police officer arrested in the case has been charged with murder. There is likely to be an independent death inquest on this case in due course. This paper briefs Members on Police procedures and safeguards on the handling of suspects, officers under stress or with psychological problems and the counselling services available to them.

Handling of suspects

2.The questioning and handling of suspects by police officers are governed by both law and Police internal orders and guidelines. In addition, the Secretary for Security had promulgated the Rules and Directions for the Questioning of Suspects and the Taking of Statements in October 1992 for all law enforcement officers including the Police to follow in questioning suspects and taking statements. A copy is at Annex.

In general, the following principles govern the handling and questioning of suspects:

  1. unless otherwise ordered or permitted by law, a Police officer may exercise a police power only when " reasonable suspicion " has been raised on the commission of an offence. " Reasonable suspicion " must be based on information or observations that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a person has done or is about to do a certain act;

  2. if a person must be arrested for an offence, the person so arrested must be informed of his arrest and of the grounds for the arrest;

  3. Police officers, otherwise by arrest, cannot compel any person against his will to come to or remain in any Police station;

  4. a Police officer must always be prepared to show that an arrest made by him was in accordance with the law, necessary for the maintenance of law and order, and made in good faith.

  5. the duty officer of a Police station must be satisfied that the arrest was lawful when dealing with an arrested person and that the charge is supported by credible evidence;

  6. before questioning a person who has been suspected of committing an offence, the Police officer questioning him must caution that person or caused him to be cautioned before putting to him any questions relating to that offence;

  7. 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 is caused to the process of investigation or the administration of justice by his doing so;

  8. the safety of both the suspects taken into custody and of Police officers handling the suspects must be ensured at all times. A Duty Officer of a Police station is responsible for the welfare of a person taken into custody. Once the Duty Officer has accepted the custody of a detainee, he becomes personally responsible for him and remains so responsible until the detainee is released or transferred or the Duty Officer is relieved at the end of his tour of duty.

Improvements to Police procedures in handling suspects

4.As part of the Administration's on-going effort to improve the law enforcement system, we announced in June 1997 the decision to 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. The improvement measures aimed to further enhance the protection of an individual's rights while ensuring law enforcement effectiveness.

5.Many of the improvement measures are related to the handling of suspects. Some of the major improvements in this area include:

  1. publishing the Police powers and procedures relating to stop and search, arrest and detention to enable members of the public to fully understand their rights and obligations;

  2. requiring a Police officer to explain to the person affected, in layman terms, the reasons for stop and search. Police officer must also keep proper record of every search and a copy of the record could be passed to the affected person on request;

  3. introducing statutory requirements to bring greater certainty on the length of detention, and to provide continuous and accountable review of the need for longer periods of detention;

  4. appointing designated " Custody Officers " and " Review Officers " to ensure those in Police detention are treated properly and to carry out review of the need for further detention respectively;

  5. progressively implementing the video-taping of interviews with suspects.

6.As regards paragraph 5(e) above, we have pledged in our Policy Commitment this year to provide funding for the expansion of the use of video-interviewing of suspects. Actions are in hand to increase the number of Police video interviewing facilities from 11 to 20 this financial year. We have earmarked funding for the Police to set up 20 additional video interviewing facilities next financial year. By then, all Police districts will be equipped with at least one video interviewing facility. We intend to set up a video interviewing facility at each Police station as soon as possible and we are considering the feasibilty of providing additional funding for the Police to advance their implementation plan to within the next one to two financial year.

Management of Police Officers with Stress or Psychological Problems

7.The Police Force management fully recognises the stress associated with Police work and has been taking positive actions to assist Police officers to cope with stress and to seek professional care when necessary.

8.The Police Psychological Service Group (PSG) consists of one Senior Police Clinical Psychologist and two Police Clinical Psychologists (PCP) (one post of PCP has been vacant since August 1997 and a replacement is being actively sought). They are assisted by one Senior Inspector.

9.In addition, counselling services are provided by one Welfare Officer and three Assistant Welfare Officers who are qualified in social work in each Police region. Staff Relations Officers at Chief Inspector level in each District are also given basic training in counselling and interviewing techniques.

Provision of Psychological Counselling

10.Officers who are under stress or have adjustment difficulties are actively encouraged to seek assistance from the PSG. They can do so by simply telephoning the group's office and making an appointment. The number is readily available from a variety of sources including articles in the Force newspaper. In 1996, 53% of cases arose from direct approaches by officers. This indicates that officers are aware of the work of the group and willing to seek assistance. Officers may also be referred by their Police Commanders, by Welfare Officers or District Staff Relations Officers, but attendance in all cases is voluntary. In over 95% of cases the PSG are able to arrange an initial counselling session within two weeks of receiving a request. In urgent cases, a PCP is on call 24 hours a day who can attend the scene if needed.

11.Attendance for counselling is purely voluntary and the details of such interviews are strictly confidential. Adherence to these principles has encouraged officers to come forward for help of their own accord. Where any counselling session reveals areas of immediate concern, for example, a threat to the safety of the officer concerned or of others, a recommendation will be forwarded to the officer's Police Commander for consideration. For officers who have been involved in an " open fire " incident, it is mandatory for them to attend a counselling session. Counselling is also offered to officers who have been involved in major disasters or operations which may have a traumatic affect such as the Garley Building fire.

12.In circumstances where an officer refuses assistance from the PSG and there are signs of abnormal behaviour, the Police Commander will arrange for him to be immediately referred to the casualty department of a government hospital for assistance. A Medical Board may also be formed to provide medical assessment of an officer who is suspected to be physically or mentally unfit to perform the principal duties of his office.

13.The reasons for officers to seek or be referred for counselling range from minor cases such as stress, insomnia, marital and child behavior problems, personal relationship adjustment problems to serious psychological disorders such as mental illness. Where a serious mental health problem which may require psychiatric assistance is suspected, the PSG will refer the officer to professional staff in the Hospital Authority or, if requested, to suitably qualified private practitioners.

14.Officers with mental problems are documented on the Central Index of Health Impaired Officers maintained at Police Headquarters. They are closely monitored at local level within their own formation. Regular reports are submitted on their performance, progress and conduct. Every six months the Force Review Board on Health Impaired Officers meets to consider the active cases and such matters as postings, progress and general policies. They will take into account the reports from Police Commanders, reports from Welfare staff as to the social background and family needs of the officer, and where appropriate the advice of the PSG on the officer's mental state.

15.For officers who are classified as Health Impaired Officers (HIO), Medical Boards are convened by senior medical staff in the Department of Health or the Hospital Authority. The Board will consider all the facts relating to the health of the officer and advise on his suitability to remain in the Force and the type of duties he is able to undertake.

Policy on Officers with Psychological Problems Carrying Arms

16.The safety of the public at large, and the officer himself, is always a major concern in the management of officers who may be suffering from psychological problems. The authority to suspend an officer from carrying arms rests with his own Police Commander, after taking into account professional advice.

17.In all cases dealt with by the PSG a careful assessment is made of the officer's state of mind. If in the professional opinion of the psychologist concerned there is any doubt about the officer's fitness to carry arms, an immediate recommendation will be made to his Police Commander. In less serious cases the recommendation may be for a temporary suspension. The officer would normally be deployed to non-front line duties and will not carry arms. He will be placed under a period of observation to fully assess his condition. In cases where more serious mental illness is suspected, a permanent suspension may be recommended.

18.In all cases of mental disorder, the Medical Board will be specially asked to consider and make recommendations as to an officer's fitness to carry arms.

Review of the Current Procedures

19.The Force has detailed and comprehensive procedures in place for the management of HIOs including those with psychological problems. There are well established channels for officers to voluntarily seek assistance and for Police Commanders to refer cases for consideration. There are also established procedures for referral of cases to obtain psychiatric assistance from the Hospital Authority where necessary.

20.In view of the recent incident, the Commissioner of Police has directed that a full review be undertaken of these procedures in the case of officers suffering from psychological disorders. The review will be chaired by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Personnel and senior medical professionals from the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority will be invited to contribute to the review.

21.The terms of reference for the review will be:

  1. to ascertain the adequacy of current procedures and services provided;

  2. to recommend procedures to clearly identify high risk categories of officers who can be given special attention and professional care;

  3. to provide a system that encourages officers with problems to come forward voluntarily; and

  4. in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority to ensure the provision of adequate specialist care not available within the Force.

22.In addition, the Police Force management has been vigorously promoting a healthy lifestyle to help officers to cope with stress through a wide range of activities such as sports, recreation and health seminars. The Police Personnel Services Branch also provides, among other services, welfare counselling by trained social workers and financial assistance through grants and loans, in addition to organising sports and recreational activities.


23.The Government takes a very serious view of the shooting incident. The Commissioner of Police has directed a full investigation of the incident and has taken positive actions to review and improve the existing system in managing Police officers with psychological problems. We will spare no effort to ensure the safety of the public and that all officers who carry firearms are fully capable both physically and mentally. We are also determined to press on with the various improvement measures which will protect the rights of individuals but at the same time maintaining law enforcement effectiveness. The support of the community will be vital to the continued success of our Police Force.

Security Bureau
13 November 1997