Former police chief Dick Lee Ming-kwai thinks that the management of the force should maintain integrity and be responsible for the mistakes made by subordinates.

“You should accept the consequences if you break the law. You will lose even more face if you insist on being right,” Lee said in an interview in the March edition of the Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly.

lee ming-kwai
Dick Lee Ming-kwai. File Photo: GovHK.

He said integrity is an important quality of any leader, as no one wants to obey a leader who is untrustworthy.

Ken Tsang assault case

Following the conviction of seven police officers for assaulting activist Ken Tsang during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests, incumbent police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung said he was “very sad” about the ruling and mentioned an appeal system.

Lo’s response was heavily criticised by pro-democracy supporters, who called on him to apologise to Tsang and the public.

Lee said that Lo’s response was factually accurate, and that it was the media who believed the police chief should make a public apology. He said the most important thing is for the force to learn from the experience and avoid making the same mistake again.

But he also acknowledged changing public attitudes and the need for the force to keep up to date with the trend.

Stephen Lo Tan Benhong PLA
Stephen Lo (R) and Tan Benhong (L), commander-in-chief of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison. File Photo: GovHK.

“In the 60s and 70s, society was fine with police using forced confessions to solve cases, but today the practice is considered unacceptable. Police need to change the way they work and communicate with the public,” Lee said.

‘Even saints make mistake’

In recent years, police officers arrested on suspicion of committing offences often become targets of online ridicule. People who dislike police tend to generalise the force, calling officers “evil cops,” “triad members” or “criminals.”

In response, Joe Chan Cho-kwong of the union Junior Police Officers’ Association said in a letter to members written in January that those who smear police officers are “garbage” and have bad motives.

“Even saints make small mistakes sometimes,” Chan said.

Chan Cho Kwong
Chan Cho-kwong. File Photo: RTHK video.

But the former police chief said in response: “Though ‘even saints make mistakes,’ the next line goes: saints must also correct their mistakes. It is especially so for the management, who must set an example for their subordinates.”

“Achievements always belong to your subordinates, and you always accept responsibility for the mistakes your subordinates make.”

Lee, 67, became Hong Kong SAR’s first police chief with a university degree in 2003, retiring four years later.

During a protest in 2000, some police officers allegedly assaulted protesters. When reporters asked Lee under which circumstances officers were allowed to hit protesters, he said: “Under no circumstances can officers hit protesters.” Lee was widely applauded for his response.

Correction 18:00: An earlier version of the article suggested that Lee was the first police chief in Hong Kong’s history to have a university degree. In fact, he was the first police chief with a university degree in post-handover Hong Kong.

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Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.