Editorial : Police should review their law enforcement

【明報專訊】A taxi driver was put in a headlock when he was arrested by the police. He was subsequently diagnosed with a cervical vertebra dislocation and unfortunately died a month later. A Coroner's jury returned a 3-2 verdict of "unlawful killing" of the taxi driver. "Unlawful killing" requires a very high standard of proof, which is proof beyond reasonable doubt. In the past it was very rare for a verdict of "unlawful killing" to be returned in a coroner's inquest into law enforcement deaths. Police officers should be prudent when using force to enforce the law, and the force used should be appropriate. This case shows that there is a need to review and improve police training in how to handle a case on the spot and how to respond when faced with resistance. The police must draw lessons from this case to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Although the relationship between the police and the public has improved over the past two years after hitting the bottom during the Occupy movement, it has not been restored to its former state yet. As this case involves police officers using force on an arrested person, it is inevitable that the public is concerned. However, as the coroner reminded the jury to set aside their own prejudices, the public should also maintain an unbiased view with regard to this case and not jump too soon to conclusions that are politically biased, such as "the antagonism between police and citizens".

The law enforcement officers in this case did not know the victim, and it was not a case of murder with intent. Instead of arguing whether the police officer involved had any "bad intention", it is more meaningful to discuss whether there were any flaws in the law enforcement process. From the standpoint of ordinary citizens, the job of police officers is to eliminate crimes and maintain peace, and police officers may have to use force when necessary. However, the use of force must be reasonable and proportionate, and should be stringently controlled. Otherwise it may threaten ordinary citizens instead.

According to police guidelines on law enforcement, when police officers face "strong resistance" during an arrest, they can hit the person under arrest or even use pepper spray. The police officer in this case claimed that they were only thinking of taking the victim into the police vehicle and did not resort to any of these measures. However, judging from the result of what happened, the police officers involved obviously did not employ the best measure by forcibly lifting the victim into the police vehicle. Tough measures can easily lead to scuffles and accidents. When police officers are handling ordinary disputes and quarrels, there is no need to hurry or act recklessly.

When enforcing the law, police officers should refrain from using unnecessary force. Neither should police officers target vulnerable parts of the body when force is used. There is a set of criteria in the police internal guidelines on when and how to use physical force and handcuffs. However, the circumstances on the spot vary greatly. In the end it is the capacity of police officers to handle emergencies and make the right judgement that counts.

The inquest proceedings show that police officers are provided with regular training in how to control suspects and how to transfer suspects safely from one place to another. However, there is no special training in how to escort someone who resists arrest into the police vehicle with a special emphasis on protecting the safety of both the suspect and the police officers. Obviously, this should be improved and reviewed. The jury has made four recommendations, including strengthening police training in how to lift an arrested person into the police vehicle and notifying the family of the suspect immediately after the arrest. The jury has also recommended that police officers should inform medical officers promptly if the arrested person is suspected of being injured and that CCTV systems should be installed in police vehicles. The police should consider the recommendations seriously.

明報社評2018.10.25:車資糾紛釀人命 警方執法須檢討








on the spot : at the actual place where something is happening

employ sth : to use sth such as a skill, method, etc. for a particular purpose

scuffle : a short and not very violent fight or struggle

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