Standards and specifications of arms and ammunitions commonly used by the police during protest dispersal operations state they can cause serious injuries or death when fired at close range or improperly.
Rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and tear gas rounds that are categorised as “low-risk” could also be lethal if fired at people’s heads. At least four reporters have been hit in the head with police projectiles since protests began in June.
On August 11, the police used pepper ball guns to shoot at fleeing protesters at a close range on an escalator of Exit C of Tai Koo MTR Station, an incident that had been criticised and even described as an “execution”-style shooting by the public.
Pepper ball projectiles are not a lethal weapon, said Mak Chin-ho, assistant police commissioner, at a press conference a day later. Mak stressed that the police have strict regulations on the use of weapons and would review the shooting range of pepper ball launchers.
On August 19, Fang Chi-kin, Superintendent (Operations), said disclosing the standards and specifications of ammunitions will affect their tactical manoeuvring strategies. However, given the wide public concern, the initial results of a review show that pepper ball projectiles were shot at about 1 metre to 2 metres from the protesters, which was in line with the manufacturer’s safety guidelines.
Pepper ball launcher Tippmann 98 Custom Platinum Basic was made by US company Tippmann Sports LLC. The guidelines stated that the gun uses compressed air, nitrogen or carbon dioxide to fire bullets with a range of over 45 metres. However, the safety warning also states that users should “avoid shooting an opponent at point-blank (six feet or less).” Six feet equal to roughly 1.8 metres.
FactWire tried to fact-check the device’s shooting distance and found that the special tactical squad member holding a pepper ball launcher tried to pull a protester from a group of people squeezing onto an escalator towards him, but to no avail. He then took three steps back and fired at least eight pepper ball rounds towards the group while stepping forward twice.
Known as LIVE-X, pepper balls used by the police were manufactured by a US company. LIVE-X is a round ball the size of a marble in red and black, while regular PepperBall LIVE rounds are red and white in colour. One round of LIVE-X contains PAVA irritant chemical agent that is equivalent to that in 10 regular PepperBall LIVE rounds.
Those exposed to PAVA capsaicin will feel a burning pain on their skin and respiratory tract. A woman was shot in the eye on August 11. Multiple media footages show a bean bag round punctuated the woman’s goggles as she fell. The bean bag round resembles Model 2581 12 GA Super Sock, a bean bag round used by the police.
The bean bag rounds are produced by another US company called Combined Tactical Systems. The police use Remington 870 shotgun to fire the Model 2581 12GA Super Sock bean bag rounds.
With a range of 25 metres, serious injuries or death may result from being shot at the head, neck, thorax, heart or spine.
Since the protests began in June, at least four reporters were hit by the police in the head, including Stephen McDonell, BBC’s correspondent in China.
On August 5, McDonell said his goggles were hit by a tear gas canister or a rubber bullet fired by the police.
Known as the 37MM tear gas canisters, the tear gas canisters used by the police were manufactured by NonLethal Technologies in the US. The manufacturer stated that the canister cannot be fired directly at a person or it may cause serious injuries or death.
As for projectiles containing hard rubber batons, NonLethal Technologies also stated that it cannot be fired at point-blank or else it may result in a person’s death.
The police have been firing rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, sponge rounds and tear gas rounds multiple times during dispersal operations at the protests. Last Sunday, a special tactical squad member fired sponge rounds continuously while chasing a protester outside a shopping mall in Tsuen Wan, New Territories. Footage from the Editorial Board of the City University of Hong Kong also showed how another person had been standing on the side of the road during the chase.
Police must exercise self-control, critically assess whether nearby civilians could be hurt before opening fire and refrain from shooting if there is the potential for those civilians to be injured, a force procedure manual from the Hong Kong Police College states. Under no circumstances should the police perform violent acts as a form of punishment or revenge, according to the police general order.