Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Govt rejects call to install CCTV cameras in police cars to prevent abuse, citing privacy concerns

Police have rejected a suggestion by a member of the independent police watchdog to equip patrol cars with surveillance cameras to prevent police abuse, citing privacy concerns.

The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) met with the police on Monday to follow up on the force’s investigation into the Mong Kok unrest, dubbed the “Fishball Revolution,” which unfolded during February this year.

Police at the Mong Kok protest. File Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Police at the Mong Kok protest in February. File Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The IPCC said that it had received 23 complaints related to beating, amounting to 28 alleged charges. Of the 28 allegations of police beating, 14 took place at the scene of arrest, four at the scene but without arrest, two after an arrest was made, two inside police cars, five inside police stations, and one during the process of arrest.

IPCC member and Democratic Party lawmaker-elect Helena Wong Pik-wan said: “Even just one complaint of beating by officers in the police car provides a sufficient basis for the IPCC and police to seriously study the need for installing CCTV cameras in the cars.”

Wong said that surveillance cameras would protect both officers and the arrested by preventing the two sides from insisting on their own versions of events during investigation.

But Cheung Kin-kwong, chief superintendent of the Complaints Against Police Organisation, rejected Wong’s call on the basis that installing cameras would lead to privacy implications.

helena wong pik-wan Cheung Kin-kwong ipcc police

Helena Wong Pik-wan of the IPCC (left) and Cheung Kin-kwong of the police force. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“It is not as simple as having just a photo or a video clip,” said Cheung, referring to the collection of evidence for investigating police misconduct.

“In every complaint of police beating… our duty officers will look at the complainant’s injury, whether the injury is serious, and other factors. We have a form for [complainants] to fill in, and we will also give them medical checkups,” the officer said. “Then, we will establish whether there was beating or abuse involved.”

‘Double standard’

Andrew Shum Wai-nam of the human rights watchdog Civil Rights Observer told HKFP that Cheung’s explanation was “ridiculous.”

“If it is truly a privacy concern, why do the police install front-facing car cameras on their motorbikes and vehicles to film the public?” Shum said. “This is double standard.”

Shum added that installing surveillance cameras inside police cars is necessary for protecting the rights of the arrested, since it is difficult for complainants of police abuse to obtain evidence under the current oversight system. He said that any privacy concerns could be addressed by drafting internal guidelines for the proper use and distribution of video footage.

andrew Shum wai nam civil rights observers IPCC

Andrew Shum Wai-nam of the Civil Rights Observer. File Photo: Youtube screenshot.

Amid a mass arrest of July 1 protesters in 2014, the police force assigned officers to videotape the entire process of arrest, including placing camera crews in buses on to which more than 500 activists were loaded. Shum said that the arrangement was in response to earlier allegations, in June 2014, that four activists were beaten and “spat on” by officers inside the police car following a protest against the controversial Northeastern Territories development plan.

“If the police have used cameras in their cars before, why is it a privacy concern this time around?” Shum said.

The police said on Monday that they had received 33 cases of complaints relating to the unrest that broke out in Mong Kok over the government’s clearing of street hawkers. Of the 33 cases, 28 will need to be answered to, amounting to 45 charges of allegations. Currently, one case is under full investigation.

Govt rejects call to install CCTV cameras in police cars to prevent abuse, citing privacy concerns