The vice chairman of the body tasked with overseeing an investigation into alleged police misconduct defended police’s controversial practice of not displaying their ID numbers on a radio program today, likely doing little to ease widespread fears that the body is incapable of conducting a sufficiently independent inquiry.
Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, the vice chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), voiced his concerns on an RTHK broadcast today that requiring riot police to display their ID numbers while on duty would be unfair, and might lead to doxxing — the online publication of people’s private details, like addresses and phone numbers.
“The special tactical squad of the riot police handles serious riots. I don’t think displaying their police identification number is necessary, lest the protesters uncover their identities,” Cheung said. “Their important work in handling riots is extremely urgent and maintains peace in society. Why should they tell people who they are or what they are doing, to allow people to make a complaint against their behavior, whether it’s reasonable or not?”
While some officers have indeed been doxxed since the Hong Kong protests first kicked off, the notion of accountability — which the disclosure of ID numbers is theoretically meant to promote — seemed not to factor into Cheung’s thinking.
“I think if you want the special tactical squad to display everything, it’s just not fair. Because they need to enforce the law, they need to feel no worries,” he added. “You know officers’ family members, their sons and daughters, can get doxxed online anytime, and they may even feel some kind of pressure at school, right?”
The comments would appear to fly directly in the face of the force’s own regulations, which require officers, if not to display their ID numbers, to disclose them when asked — something they have proven reluctant to do in their policing of recent demonstrations, much to protesters’ chagrin. (The same regulations, however, say that officers need only disclose their ID number if a request is “reasonable,” the definition of which is left up to officers’ discretion, though they are advised to be prepared to defend their decision if they refuse.)
The IPCC’s ability to independently police the police — who have been the subject of numerous accusations of excessive force of late — has been a matter of debate for some time.
Protesters insist the body, which is stacked with pro-establishment appointees by the chief executive, is not sufficiently independent to come up with credible findings, and have long demanded that an independent commission be established to investigate claims of abuses.
The government, meanwhile, and in particular Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has remained adamant that the IPCC is more than capable of conducting the investigation itself.
One person who was unconvinced by Cheung’s rationale was his fellow guest on RTHK, former IPCC member and pro-democracy lawmaker Kenneth Leung, who acknowledged riot police’s “special responsibility,” while maintaining that did not entitle them to special protections.
“I do not think that it’s justified to say that because they have a special duty, then they should be protected in such a way that they need not display their numbers,” Leung said.
In an interview after the program, Leung also expressed doubts as to whether the IPCC was capable of conducting an independent inquiry into allegations of police misconduct.
“The government, who appoints the [IPCC’s] members, should look at whether they are independent and whether there is a balanced political perspective,” he said.
“For example, if those members appointed are really opposing what the protesters want to achieve… [and] vocal about supporting the police, then I think the findings of these members would probably be biased,” he added.
Cheung’s comment did not land well on LIHKG, an online forum frequented by Hong Kong’s protesters, among whom complaints over the failure to display IDs — therefore making it impossible to file complaints against specific officers — have long circulated.
“How can we trust that IPCC has any credibility to conduct an independent investigation after these comments?” one LIHKG user asked.
“Now they’ve stabbed themselves with a knife and committed political suicide,” another said.
“Why don’t you just go ahead and say there’s no need to monitor police conduct at all, vice chairman of IPCC?” asked another.