Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Theresa May when serving as Home Secretary decided the police were racist. Fed false data, she believed officers stopped and searched a disproportion number of black kids. May thought it a swell idea to hold the police back. Her decision released a wave of crime that continues to this day. With 36 people fatally stabbed in London since the beginning of this year, the consequences of her decision play out.
The London Police recorded 37,443 knife offences in 2017. Black teenage boys are the vast majority of the victims. While seeking to appease the human rights types, May unwittingly started a cull of young black man. The killings show no signs of abating.
In 2015, May had another great idea. Police should stop chasing kids without helmets on motorbikes. She feared the little darlings might crash and injure themselves. What happened next? The theft of mopeds by teenagers exploded. In audacious incidents, gangs drove through shopping centres snatching mobile phones and wallets. The police watched, passive, unable to respond because of May's edicts. Later withdrawn, the damage done. By then the kids had already recognised their ability to flee. Hence, the die is cast.
Hong Kong officials have shown themselves far more astute. Deciding not intervene in police operational tactics. On 11 February a driver and his passenger died in a police pursuit. Officers slowed traffic ahead of the fleeing vehicle, in a ‘rolling roadblock’. The fleeing vehicle then plowed into slowing cars. Besides two killed, four people sustained injuries including an officer.
The police faced accusations of using the public as 'human shields’. Commentators blasted the Force, noting similar incidents in the past. In 2009 officers used taxis, a lorry and a private car to halt illegal racing in Kwun Tong. Eight people sustained injuries in a pile-up.
Then Commissioner of Police, Tang King-shing, was quick with an apology. Earning the unfair nickname 'Sorry Sir’ in the process.
In the latest incident, Police made matters worse by issuing the injured drivers with ‘notice of intended prosecution'. The blind following of procedures rubbed salt in the wound. Then a clumsy PR strategy failed to recognise public sentiment. Relying on the ‘standard procedure’ excuse invited more scorn.
In the later furore, the Force was robust enough to defend the ‘rolling roadblock' tactic as legitimate. Police rejected calls to outlaw this option. They are correct to do so. As the UK experience shows, hampering police operations can have unforeseen consequences.
Drug traffickers, drunk-drivers and terrorist would enjoy the freedom to commit their crimes. Knowing the police are impotent, they'd race around with impunity. It would be only a matter of time before the failure to stop these people results in more deaths.
Public safety is paramount. Every officer has that drummed into him. In light of that, all tactics must remain on the table. Only by retaining a full range of tactical options can officers protect the public. That’s not to suggest rash or thoughtless tactics; the opposite.
The decision to use a ‘rolling roadblocks’ is a tough call. It's taken quickly with limited information during fast-paced and dynamic incidents. Officers are in an invidious position. Doing nothing would be easy. Let the drunk driver continue on his way or the drug shipment through.
Police officers understand the risks. In the early hours of 14th July 1983, police constable Cheng Man-fai was helping to dismantle a roadblock in Princess Margaret Road. A Volvo motor-car struck him causing brain injuries from which he died on 23rd of that month. Later Dennis Chiu Tat-shing was found guilty of the manslaughter of constable Cheng.
Hardly a year goes by without an officer killed on a roadblock or during traffic duties. On 22nd March, Senior Constable Lum Hoi-wan, 51, was dealing with a traffic accident in Kowloon. A truck hit him and killed the officer. At least three police vehicles were on site with warning lights. Cones marked off the scene. Nonetheless, a driver managed to hit the officer.
In 1992 officers stood accused of the death of bystanders during an illegal road-race. Inaccurate media reports claimed officers failed to stop the road-race on Canton Road. Criticized for acting and then attacked for not acting, no wonder the police feel they can please no one. Road racers are determined to evade capture, putting police officers and the public at risk.
In my view, it’s right and proper that the ‘rolling roadblock’ remains an option. I’ve used it a multitude of times to slow down and halt illegal road racers. Other options also have inherent risks.
Some places deploy spikes. These can bring a car to a halt, although the chance of a vehicle going out of control exists. Innocent motorist can get caught by spikes, making them a risky option. Manufacturers claim that spikes will safety deflate tires to stop the vehicle. That doesn’t take into account the desperate driver who continues on his rims.
The name roadblock is incorrect. These typically consist of cones leading drivers into a narrowed lane. As such, no 'block' exists. Thus the determined will get through. A road closure with blocking vehicles or physical barrier remains the only option. And then, some nutter will still have a go.
And please, don’t mention shooting out tires or drivers. This is the real world, not a Hollywood fantasy.
The innocent drivers who suffered in the recent incident deserve compensation. I’m sure they will receive such. Being caught in such an event would make anyone angry. With a sympathetic stance, the police could have mitigated the criticism against them.
So, what to do? If the public decides they're prepared to accept drunk-drivers and road-racers, then the police can relax. Instead of proactive tactics, the police will investigate after the event. Although the question remains, what is the consequence if officers do nothing? We don't want to be the UK position of rampant crime and a hamstrung police force.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.