The Hong Kong police are set to receive HK$25.8 billion from the 2020 budget announced on Wednesday – the boost will cover crowd control gear and 2,543 extra personnel, ramping up the force’s manpower to over 38,000.
The move comes after months of unrest and pro-democracy protests, and comes amid widespread claims of police brutality from demonstrators, watchdogs and NGOs.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan’s budget increased funding to the police by 24.7 per cent compared to last year’s budget announcement, or a 9 per-cent rise compared to the revised spending. The manpower boost marks a decade-high increase of 7 per cent, in a city which has among the highest citizen-officer ratios in the world.
It is estimated that 86 per cent of officers will be deployed to the operational frontlines, with new patrol officers, and new personnel for the Police Tactical Unit, Emergency Units and other criminal investigation operations.
The budget for “specialist supplies and equipment” will be doubled from HK$300 million to HK$612 million. The cost will cover replacing six armoured vehicles, with each costing around HK$12.7 million, among other purchases of firearms, special vehicles and fast pursuit crafts for the marine department.
Figures released on Wednesday also revealed that the overtime pay and other allowances in the year 2019-20 was 10 times more than the original estimate, soaring to HK2.5 billion from HK$256 million.
The Legislative Council will review and approve the 2020 budget, which includes the police spending boost. Pro-democracy lawmakers have accused the government of distracting the general public with a HK$10,000 cash handout in order to “quietly give funding” to the force.
“To this day, the government still doesn’t understand where the public opinion lies,” said Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung. “The justice that citizens are striving for cannot be bought by that HK$10,000.”
[1/2] Today #HKGov announced in budget HK$10k cash handouts to all HKers 18 or above. But this comes as bundle w/ 20% increase in #hkpolice bdgt consists of HK$1.37b for water cannons (~1.5x same item last year) & HK$25.5b overtime work subsidy 4 officers (900%+ overspending!) pic.twitter.com/kbIcg6b0QC
— Alvin Yeung 楊岳橋 (@AlvinYeungnk) February 26, 2020
Another pro-democracy legislator Eddie Chu questioned whether the police could be able to hire more officers in the coming year: “The police’s reputation has been tarnished, Hongkongers are ashamed to be associated with the force. I really wonder is it possible to see more than 2,000 young Hongkongers join the force in the coming year,” Chu said.
Tam Man-kei, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, told HKFP that the police should only ask for more funding and resources after alleged cases of police brutality are investigated through an independent commission of inquiry.
“Before the police ask for more funding to buy equipment, they need to prove that their use of force is fair. It should be done through an independent, comprehensive and transparent investigation,” Tam said.
During a radio show on Thursday morning, the finance chief responded to concerns over the police budget and requests to reduce the force’s funding.
Paul Chan said he was aware of the concerns of some lawmakers, and suggested they ask for explanations from representatives of the police force or the Security Bureau during the review of the budget at the legislature.