Hong Kong’s police once had the reputation of being the finest in Asia. They have suffered a fall in popularity in recent years due to their use by the government in cracking down harshly on the pro-democracy movement.
The former British colony of Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and has seen many changes since, not least in its police force. Formed in 1844, the Hong Kong Police (HKP) has around 40,000 personnel but its duties include border security and coast guard duties. With 3,000 officers and 143 vessels, its marine division alone is the world’s largest police fleet.
Under British Colonial rule, the police service was noted for its use of European officers, a practice that stopped in 1994, but it retained many trappings of that time after the colony was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Rank structure, organization and vehicle markings still follow a British system and, with English the second language of most people in Hong Kong, it is still an essential skill for HKP recruits. The emergency number is also the British norm: 999. The biggest visible change was the loss of the word “Royal” from the title and a new badge that reflected modern Hong Kong rather than the imperial past.
Following independence from Britain, a framework known as “one country, two systems” was introduced that gave Hong Kong some autonomy while remaining under the ultimate control of Mainland China. Protests at the limits of that self-government have pitched protesters against the HKP and being the visible face of Mainland rule has damaged the force’s reputation.
The Hong Kong Police Museum is well worth a visit for an overview of the force that is also a history of Hong Kong itself, as the museum’s founding was only a few years after Britain first occupied the colony. Exhibits include a gallery dedicated to the notorious Triad crime families, and a complete heroin-making factory seized in the 1980s. It also has displays of uniforms, equipment, and weaponry.
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