Policing in Hong Kong

Policing in Hong Kong

Author: Kam C. Wong
Publisher: Farnham, Surrey, UK; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. 357p.
Reviewer: Mathieu Deflem | March 2013

Policing in Hong Kong offers a report of selected aspects of law enforcement in one of the world’s most interesting locales, especially from the viewpoint of comparative social-science research. For a long time a colony of the British Empire, Hong Kong has since 1997 been politically organized as a special administrative region of China under the principle of ‘one country, two systems’. This principle basically secures that the socialism of mainland China will not be practiced in Hong Kong, where capitalism is maintained and where, as stipulated in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, a considerable degree of autonomy is assured with respect to executive, legislative, and judicial powers.

Professor Kam Wong reviews the evolution of policing in Hong Kong on the basis of an analysis of a number of important issues that are especially relevant from the viewpoint of professional police administration. As such, the general title of the book does not entirely convey the more delineated focus of this book on certain administrative aspects of law enforcement, such as police reform, police power and abuse, and accountability. Seven chapters are presented to discuss these issues.

In the first chapter, author Wong focuses on the history of police organization in Hong Kong, focusing on the special characteristics of the colonial policing style. Of particular concern thereby are, amongst other issues, the objectives of colonial policing in matters of crime control and the maintenance of public order, a most delicate subject matter in
(semi-)autocratic and highly centralized political systems. This review provides the necessary background for the following chapter to review and discuss the present state and organization of Hong Kong’s police. Here, Professor Wang immediately begins to focus on a select number of themes rather than trying to present a comprehensive viewpoint, especially by devoting attention to complaints against the police and the abuse of police powers. In the third chapter, the control of the police use of force is examined, with a special focus on the use of firearms by the Hong Kong Police, and relying on a case-study concerning the supervision of the police use of force within the organization as well as detailing broader controls that are designed externally by means of policy and law.

Wong then moves on to specific issues and problems. Chapter 4 centers on the special issue of police patrol and the question of the choice between a one-officer versus a two-officer patrol system. He explores this question in police-oriented terms in view of the objective of securing officer safety while not giving up on the need for police to provide security. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on distinctly modern and technologically influenced issues by centering on, respectively, the special problem of police handling of computer crimes and the police power to intercept communications. The book’s final chapter draws comparisons of police reform between Hong Kong and China.

Professor Wong is obviously placed ideally for a book on policing in Hong Kong, for not only is he linguistically and culturally competent, he has also served as a Police Inspector of the Hong Kong Police before he became an academic specializing in the areas of law, criminology, and policing. It is doubtful, in fact, that there is presently any scholar who would be better placed than Dr. Wong to write a book-length treatise on the police situation in Hong Kong.

Necessarily, the author also brings some of his own unique scholarly and professional background to the analysis. Specifically, this book is written predominantly from a criminal-justice orientation that is geared towards satisfying the needs of the police professional. Thus, the work focuses on accountability and reform as the leading issues of policing in Hong Kong, rather than on the dynamics and conditions of the transformation of police from an informed theoretical perspective. Given the special nature of the status of Hong Kong, especially from a political and economic point of view, Wong’s choice is wholly defendable.

While useful in substance, this work has some issues of presentation and style that might have been dealt with to make the work not only more presentable, but more convincing in its claims as well. In particular, the book is at times rather poorly organized and disjointedly presented, and tends to present various lists and singular and highly specific topics and cases. The liberal use of many and, at times, extremely lengthy footnotes additionally complicates the presentation of ideas. As such, the book tends to come across as a rough draft of ideas and themes that still needs to be developed into a coherent book.

The seeming unfinished quality of this work complicates its being adequately assessed as a contribution to the social-science and professional literature on policing. Nonetheless, for scholars interested in the transformation of the police function under conditions of natural experiments –besides Hong Kong, the reform efforts of policing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the various new states of the former Soviet Union serve as additional examples—Kam Wong’s work will be an indispensable guide for further research.

Mathieu Deflem, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of South Carolina. www.mathieudeflem.net

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