The police have included “water drenching” as a dispersal tactic in a fresh set of crowd-control guidelines, according to several frontline officers.
The police officers told Ming Pao that the new training instructions mentioned four different stages of increasing force which may be used in order to handle unlawful mass rallies. It said that, if suspected illegal activities were seen at protests, officers should first give warnings, then drench protesters with water, then use a pepper spray based solution with a jetpack, and finally escalate to batons.
The newspaper reported that the police have mostly completed their review on the handling of the pro-democracy Occupy protests last year. The apparent approval of “drenching” methods may be a temporary measure ahead of the purchase of police riot vehicles with water cannon.
A spokesperson for the police told Ming Pao that it is not in a position to disclose operational details, but it will arrange for enough officers to maintain public order according the situation at public events to ensure public safety.
The police emphasised that it respects the freedom of expression and assembly of citizens, but it will not tolerate violence or any actions against public order.
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor Director Law Yuk-kai told the newspaper that the police should restrain from using force. He said that water drenching may hurt protesters, and he was concerned about the chaos and stampedes that may ensue. He said that police escalations may provoke a similar escalation from protesters, thus causing more violence.
On December 1 last year, police used a hose to spray water into the air to disperse protesters at the Admiralty Occupy site. The source of water was a nearby government building, according to the newspaper.
The police may need to use water from standpipes if drenching is used, as the Fire Department has strict restrictions on using fire hose reels, which state that they should only be used to put out fires and save lives.
The newspaper also reported that the police will refrain from using tear gas due to the negative public reaction. Officers have also been instructed to use batons only to target limbs, not heads.