Hong Kong police have told HKFP that it is “understandable” for officers to put on badges on their uniforms in order to boost team spirit and morale at protest operations. It comes after the wearing of unofficial uniform adornments sparked debate over police discipline and dress codes.

Last Thursday, dozens of riot police wore badges that read “wind, forest, fire, mountain” and “bravo” during a dispersal operation at Yuen Long’s Yoho Mall, where crowds gathered to sing songs and chant slogans related to the year-long pro-democracy movement.

An officer wearing a badge that reads “wind, forest, fire, mountain” at a mall protest in Yuen Long on June 25, 2020. Photo: Stand News screenshot.

The line “wind, forest, fire, mountain” originated from The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise. It was later used by Japanese feudal lord Takeda Shingen on war flags during the Sengoku period of civil war and social and political upheaval.

At previous demonstrations, some officers wore badges that featured the force’s new motto rolled out last November – “Serving Hong Kong with honour, duty and loyalty.” Other embellishments that appeared on uniforms and helmets included an ambigram that read “police” and “kickass.”

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, police said the situation at large-scale operations was chaotic. The wearing of team titles and badges, in addition to formal gear, could help personnel identify members of different operating teams and enhance operation efficiency, they said.

Photo: Facebook.

“Moreover, since last June, personnel have to face protest clashes for a long period of time. To boost the team spirit and morale, wearing team titles and badges – without affecting citizens’ impression of the force – is understandable,” police said in an email last Friday evening.

The explanation is at odds with comments last June from the security chief who was questioned over why some officers failed to wear ID. John Lee defended the force and said there was no space for Special Tactical Squad members – commonly known as “raptors” – to show their identification numbers on their “special uniforms.”

Uniform code

According to chapter 15 of the Police General Orders, officers shall not “vary any item of uniform or dress issued by the Force unless authorised by the Commissioner” and they shall not “purchase any item of uniform from any unofficial source.”

Police did not directly respond to HKFP’s questions over whether the badges were from an official source, and whether police chief Chris Tang had approved of the wearing of the adornments.

According to local media, a legal challenge that began at the High Court last Wednesday revealed the force had waived parts of the general orders that required officers to display their warrant cards and police numbers. The arrangement took effect last November, but the publicly accessible regulations on the police website were not updated.

At a press conference last October, police said officers would display their operational call signs, as a way to “strike a balance between public interest and protection of police privacy.”

In response, police told HKFP that they did not amend the relevant articles, adding that they could not comment on the case as it has entered legal proceedings.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.