- The government cannot leave the police feeling isolated at the centre of a political crisis that has undermined the city’s reputation as a safe world city
Amid all the recriminations over violent scenes involving protesters and police, the duty of officers to uphold law and order has never been questioned. Rather it is police strategy and tactics that have come under criticism. Now the presence of officers on the ground itself has become an unprecedented issue between the rank and file and the force's management over their safety in "dangerous" situations, and in what circumstances they should be deployed.
Following the violence last weekend, the Junior Police Officers' Association issued a statement saying they should not be deployed to dangerous frontline positions where their safety would be compromised, unless management was confident that conditions, such as tactics and equipment, could protect the safety and psychological well-being of those on duty. Otherwise the association would seek legal advice to find solutions that would better guarantee their safety " given problems with taking radical action such as going on strike or withdrawing from active operations. It is unheard of for a police union to take such a stand.
Lam offers solace to police as officers warn of reaching breaking point
Police have been caught in the middle of a political crisis over the now-suspended extradition bill that has taken on a life of its own on the streets. But it remains a political crisis that can only be solved politically. It should not be repackaged as a law-and-order issue in which police are used to solve what is essentially a political problem. The consequences of that for the image of police have emerged in the association's stance. Hypothetically, it is worth reflecting on what would happen to the city if it no longer had an effective police force.
That said, it is also time to remind protesters to seriously reflect on how they vent their frustration and anger. To be sure, some officers may have become emotional and overstepped the line. Their actions do no credit to the force and are an injustice to the majority. It should be remembered that police are a disciplined force expected to carry out assigned duties to maintain law and order irrespective of the strategic and tactical judgment of their leadership. They are unlikely to be motivated by personal political views. In many cases, regrettably, they have faced not just physical violence and verbal abuse but also misuse of personal information, infringement of privacy and harassment of their families. Such abuse of the city's core value of tolerance has no place in protests aimed at upholding rights enshrined in the Basic Law.
The government cannot leave police feeling isolated at the centre of a political crisis that has undermined Hong Kong's reputation as a safe world city. It must work harder to unite community leaders behind reason and restraint, upon which confidence in our core institutions depends.
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