The police have decided to increase the use of body-worn video cameras. By 2021, every frontline uniformed police officer will be equipped with one.

Undersecretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the use of body cameras can help with investigations, relevant prosecution work and trials.

“Last year, in 90 per cent of the cases when the camera was on, the subjects stopped over-reactive behaviour and became calm when being video-filmed – it reduced confrontations,” Lee said at a Panel on Security session at the Legislative Council on Friday.

Police body worn video cameras
Police body worn video cameras. File Photo: GovHK.

The police now have around 1,400 body cameras used by officers of the Emergency Units, the Police Tactical Unit, the Quick Reaction Force of New Territories North Region and various Police Districts. There were 28,705 police officers as of April last year.

The Security Bureau said that by March 31 this year, the police have recorded a total of 724 clips with the cameras in 493 incidents, from which 172 clips were used in investigations or submitted as evidence. It said in a case of assaulting a police officer and a case of obstructing a police officer, relevant footage served as important evidence for convictions.

The police planned to combine body cameras with a new model of beat radios, in an upgrade to the Fourth Generation Command and Control Communications System by 2021.

The pro-Beijing camp supported purchasing more cameras and they suggested the progress should be faster.

Beneficial to both sides

The Security Bureau said video footage would be deleted after 31 days if it had no investigative or evidential value, and was not suitable for training or review purposes.

Pro-democracy Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said that this unused footage might be useful to the defence in a trial, and deleting it may be a disadvantage to the defence.

Undersecretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu
Undersecretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu. File Photo: GovHK.

Lee said if an investigation was started within the 31 days, all footage would be kept. He also said there were cases when footage unfavourable to the prosecution was used in court, and the court eventually dismissed the case because of lack of evidence.

Lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung said that in foreign cases, the cameras also stop police officers from abusing their powers: “Take the seven police officers’ case as an example, if there were cameras, maybe they would not have done that [beating protester Ken Tsang].” He called for public guidelines over the handling of the footage.

Law also questioned if officers could selectively record and delete footage. Lee said the cameras only had record and replay functions.

“Deletion of footage can only be done by a separate unit in independent workstations, and only after checking if it fits with the rules,” he said. “Officers will not be able to touch footage after recording it.”

Contradicting statements

Lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was concerned about measures to prevent police officers viewing the footage before making statements.

“Officers can check with the footage so there won’t be any statements contradicting themselves,” Leung said. “There was a case that a group of officers viewed the footage together, and an officer mentioned they needed to be careful of ten specific time spots in the footage.”

The bureau said in a document supplied to lawmakers that operators and case investigators must obtain the approval of supervisors before viewing a clip.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.