Into a Minefield.
I was finally getting a handle on my subunit, starting to make some changes. Then without warning, I'm dropped into a complex, collusive world. I was to take charge of the anti-gambling squad.
I'd received no training nor briefing for the role. Plus it's an area of crime that cuts across the triads, bent coppers and assorted nasty types.
Further, I was under the ever watchful eye of the ICAC. We assumed they had our telephones tapped. They would delight in taking out a squad for some infraction of procedures or worst. In short, I was stepping unprepared into a minefield.
The previous commander of the squad was gone. A hand-over report introduced the admin side of the role. I read it. That's it. No details of ongoing cases or hints on how I may develop cases.
To add to my worries, the line of command was direct to the Deputy District Commander. He demanded results for a squad I'd commanded for four hours. He announced with enthusiasm that the former squad commander was a "bent-bastard." That’s an encouraging start.
So, here I am without direction and no understanding of the dangers I faced. Meanwhile, the boss is demanding results before I'd even started. You cannot make this stuff up.
Unskilled and unaware of it, I was fortunate that an old hand took pity on me. Peter H realised I was a disaster waiting to happen. To save everybody some hassle, he took me aside. He suggested a couple of things, telling me to record everything I did. Everything.
I managed to change a few squad members, and in the process, I secured a "clean" sergeant as my second in command. The demoralised team needed the new blood. That evening I made it clear to the squad of eight that my focus was on doing things right. The bosses could demand results all they liked.
We would not be chasing cases at any cost. I wanted all the informants registered and the paperwork to be pristine. If the ICAC came to knock, we could cover ourselves. Moreover, I insisted that two officers attend each contact to avoid the potential of compromise.
"So, how many informants have we got?" I asked boldly. Silence. The squad members looked at each other, then stared at the floor.
"Come on, how many?"
Then the silence is broken. “None, Sir"
Not good and about to get worst.
In the first week, we managed to pull off a few minor raids against construction site gambling. Workers playing at lunchtime on the Harbour City site on Canton Road proved an easy target. It was small-scale stuff that netted ten odd arrests at a time, with seizures of $300-. The arrested persons would appear in Court the next day.
A bored and unimpressed magistrate fined them $100- each. I also dug out some old intelligence files. That led us to an illicit mahjong school masquerading as a social club. Again, it was a low-level case, but I was hoping it would help generate something else.
I then landed drugs information. The source was reliable. Moreover, the target was opposite the police station. It was possible to observe the flat from the first floor offices. So I set up and waited until activity indicated we had someone on the scene. Using a deception, we gained entry.
A pregnant lady tenant soon gave up her absent husband's large drug stash. She then proceeded to hand over his records of transactions. He was not in her good books. By the end of the evening, I had a sizable drugs seizure, records of deals, with a wanted person to pursue. A list of pager numbers would lead to further cases in due course. I was pretty pleased.
Not so my boss. The next morning I found a confidential envelope on my desk. Opening it, I exploded. The Deputy District Commander informed me that my leadership qualities were in doubt.
A squad from Hong Kong Island had managed to secure a significant gambling case on our patch. They'd seized over $150,000-. Information suggested that the mobile casino had operated for two weeks.
I'm in my second week. I'd received no advice from the man, nor did he have the gumption to interview me. Instead, he'd resorted to management by memorandum.
I went looking for him. His secretary barred the door to his office. He was busy. The moment passed. I calmed down and went back to work. Years later on my promotion to Superintendent, my former boss was still at that rank. The man had the decency to call me with congratulations. We spoke over old times as any animosity faded.
Luck did finally smile at me towards the end of my tour on the gambling squad. A beat officer noted that a premise in Hankow Road was having its windows boarded up. Plus workers delivered a large table.
It all looked odd because the roof-top apartment is empty all day. Then at night, the place came alive with visitors. A couple of days of observation confirmed a casino was in operation.
The adjacent building allowed us access to the rooftop. So we waited until it was evident that things were in full swing, then hit the place. As we entered all hell broke loose. Bodies flew out of windows, scrambling across the roof. Some sought to escape down the staircase, where my backstops waited to catch them.
I ended up with 45 arrests, some $200,000- seized and a load of good press coverage. I had to summons up two buses to convey everyone back to the station, where we spent the night processing the case.
A so-called “keeper” came forward. He was likely a patsy, taking the fall for the real operator. It took days for the criminal records to come in on all the arrested persons. When these arrived, it was clear we had a couple of significant players.
All kept a low profile during the raid. No point in drawing attention to yourself. The case then breezed through the Court, with all pleading guilty. No doubt the operator needed things settled in a rush to get on with business elsewhere. He likely covered the fines.
During the last week of the attachment to the squad, a routine raid on a mahjong school turned serious. The premises housed an illegal gambling den with legal stuff going on as a cover.
Being a ground floor location, I decided to enter through the rear door off an alley. Putting a couple of women officers up front to distract anyone we met while going in. The girls were pretty good at engaging people by appearing lost and vulnerable.
As we came into the main room, a crowd of 20 men stood hunched over a table, engrossed in a game of Pai Kau. In no time we had them under control, it was only then I noticed the revolver on a chair. A police detective special with six rounds loaded.
By now we had our guns out, covering the room. No one was saying anything.
"So who does this belong too?" I ventured.
“It's mine, Sir" came the timid voice.
Detective Constable TSUI of Cheung Sha Wan Division faced dismissal. He admitted using the gun to cover a bet. What he'd do if he'd lost he never explained. This type of stunning stupidity is beyond explanation.
My stint in the gambling squad was about survival. Ensuring that any mistakes, and there were many, did not escalate to the extent that it harmed careers. I suppose the only reason I was there was because as a "clean-skin." I'd unlikely go rogue.
After all, I’d later learn that influential people operating inside and outside the Force had a stake in the business. As a new clean boy, I was incorruptible but vulnerable and even expendable.
The team and I formed a strong bond. Adversity will do that. To this day we remain in contact. Some progressed well in the police. One lady went on to be a senior prosecutor in the Legal Department. I'm satisfied that they remained unscathed on my watch.
The treatment I received was not unique. Most new inspectors, expatriate and local, experienced similar things. The management saw it as a baptism by fire for us.
Throw you in at the deep end, swim or sink. Those who survived moved on, a few faltered, and others ended up in jail or out of a job. I resented it. Learning early in my career that people will sacrifice you for selfish purposes. After all, they'd warned you by memorandum to take care!
You could argue I'm naive and immature at that point. I'd not dismiss such a judgment. Looking back on it, I didn't over-estimate my abilities nor got too gung-ho. That saved me. I scraped through.
I handed the squad over to the next virgin inspector. Returning to my patrol unit for a couple of weeks before joining the Police Tactical Unit.
With a year of operational time under my belt, PTU was the next logical step. Although, the daily PT was going to be a shock to my system