A Policeman’s Lot

There has been a revolution in the way Hong Kong people view the local police force during the last 40 years.

When I first arrived here in 1972, most people either loathed or feared the police because of the extensive corruption which prevailed at that time. Vice activities were rampant, with illegal gambling dens everywhere, quite blatant drug divans, and sordid brothels all run by or with the permission of the local constabulary. In the 1970s it was even necessary for the government to organise a "Fight Violent Crime" campaign because the law and order situation was so precarious.

Old hands remember what happened next: 1974 the Independent Commission Against Corruption was established and began to nail corrupt officials throughout the public service, but particularly the police. By 1977, the force had had enough and there was a mutiny, followed by an amnesty.

From that point onward, the police gradually evolved into the highly professional and clean organisation we see today. The force earned the respect and gratitude of the entire (non-criminal) community. Whereas there was a local saying 40 years ago that it was better for one’s daughter to stand around on street corners than to join the police, for at least 30 years now becoming a police officer has been a perfectly respectable career choice for both men and women.

Hong Kong people have become used to enjoying a safe environment with very low overall crime rates. It amazes visitors from out of town when they see girls walking home alone quite safely late at night, confident in the knowledge that they are extremely unlikely to come to harm.

The younger generation has of course no recollection of the bad old days, they have come to take our tranquil way of life for granted.

All of which is by way of backdrop to the umbrella movement and the physical occupation by demonstrators of several key road junctions. I have a message for them. Most Hong Kong people are sympathetic to your cause and we believe you are sincere in wanting the best possible political system for our future. You are right to be angry with the government which has behaved disgracefully towards all of us and has treated the students particularly shabbily.

But what you are doing is against the law and it is causing serious hardship to increasing numbers of your fellow citizens. Your quarrel is not with them, it is with the government. You should stop the street protest element of your campaign now (it would have been best if you had called a halt after two weeks) and devise new strategies that inconvenience or embarrass the government instead.

Sooner or later the police will be ordered in to remove you using minimum necessary force. Whether that is because of a court order or a political decision to protect the rights of the rest of the community does not matter. They will have to come and they will remove you.

When that moment comes you must go quietly: remember, the police are not your enemy. They are one of the pillars of our community that makes our city such a great place to live, that makes us so different from the mainland.

If you forget, and resist with force, then I am afraid you will forfeit the goodwill many feel for your cause, and discredit the very principles for which you say you stand.

That would be a very sad day. Written with love from the bottom of my heart.