Police History: Creating a Legend 1967-94
The Royal Hong Kong Police emerged from the confrontations of the 1960s with pride. Beneath the surface, however, grave problems faced both the community and its major law enforcement agency. Many of these problems could be traced directly to the manner in which Hong Kong had grown so spectacularly, in terms of population and economic might, in such a short time. In the 1930s, the city had been a rather sleepy port, a quiet colonial backwater whose economy and importance were dwarfed by Shanghai. The war brought trade to a halt. Then the communist victory in the civil war, the Korean War and its accompanying United Nations boycott on China cut off most commerce. Hong Kong was packed not only with refugees desperate for work but canny industrialists the Mainland who had arrived from the north on ships; packed in the holds was the textile machinery that was to sew a different sort of wealth for Hong Kong. Against this fast-changing, fluid background the force tried to cope with enormous change.
Despite significant improvements, pay was still low. Policemen were the poor relations, not only of business figures but also other public servants. There were serious shortages in management. Much of the day to day command of the force lay in the rigorous embrace of the Staff Sergeants, the senior Non-Commissioned Officers who ran affairs with iron hands. Commissioner Charles Sutcliffe, a resolute veteran of Africa who was inflexibly resolved on reform, went ahead despite great opposition to break the power of the mighty Staff Sergeants. It was widely recognised, universally known but never admitted that corruption was widespread throughout the force and the community. This wads largely due to poor wages. Money from gambling and other rackets helped pay for informants in the underworld whose tips helped greatly in curbing crime, leading to the notion that petty graft, at least, was tolerated.
It was to break the back of graft that Commissioner Sutcliffe changed the rank structure. The most basic change was an influx of young Non-Commissioned Officers to the new rank of Station Sergeant, taking direct control of operations out of the hands of the Staff Sergeants, the "Tigers" as they were known. There was also, following a sweeping review, a general increase in pay. But the biggest boost to fighting corruption came almost by accident, during a routine enquiry from a Canadian bank about the account of a man called Peter Fitzroy Godber. Charles Sutcliffe, when the matter was reported to him, was astounded; how had a Chief Superintendent amassed so much money? He started enquiries to find out. The results rocked not only the police, but all Hong Kong.
Peter Godber had been one of the heroes of 1967, confronting rioters on the streets. But when Charles Sutcliffe confronted him in June 1973, with proof of his hidden fortune, Godber fainted. It was a sensational interlude, and one with sweeping ramifications. Godber fled from Hong Kong, causing an immense upsurge of public protest. This led directly to the formation of a new law enforcement body, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, with enormous powers of investigation and arrest. Charged specifically to target graft, it recruited both locally and abroad and went to work with a will.
Inevitably, police were the major targets, simply because it is policemen and women, usually in uniform, who have the closest day to day relations with the public. The anti-graft operations were both widespread and intense. There were many arrests. Many, both in the force and the community, felt things were going too far, that practices that had for many years been either accepted or to which authorities turned a blind eye, were now subject to cynical scrutiny and prosecution.
In 1977, police protested what many saw as victimisation. Thousands marched on police headquarters or staged meetings where their anger and distress could be heard. The government, conceding a good thing had perhaps gone too far, issued an amnesty for almost all cases in the past, mostly involving petty corruption.
The anti-graft campaign had left scars, some deep and bitter. Out of the experience, anew feeling emerged. Many young policemen felt open relief that the old days were over. A commission of three senior British police officers examined force manpower and structure, making many recommendations. Key among these suggestions, all of which were adopted, was that policemen should have a realistic living wage. The police system that emerged out of this five-year period of upheaval was better manned, more directly managed and more accountable. It is the Royal Hong Kong Police that can be recognised today.
Throughout those difficult, trying years, police never wavered in their duty. The dreadful landslides of 1972 the normal, annual buffeting by typhoons, crime waves and dealt with by a force that gained yearly in confidence and experience. Despite investigations, widespread publicity about past corruption problems and a temporary slump in morale, police continued to serve with dedication.
It was a police force that continued to gain wide acceptance and trust from the public. This was no accident. Since the late 1960s, there had been a public relations-information unit designed to tell people what police were doing. Junior Police Call, an Organization that became the largest youth group in Hong Kong history, recruited youngsters to help in the fight against crime, with significant success. Recruitment figures remained high; a career in the Hong Kong Police was desirable; those young men and women who marched out onto the parade ground at Police College were better educated, more motivated and vastly better paid than former generations.
The command structure was changing, too. Young men who joined as probationary inspectors in the early 1960s were reaching senior ranks. Many of them, reflecting changing times, were Chinese whose career structure and prospects had been steadily improving since the Sutcliffe era.
|Overview - The Future|
|History - The First Century|
|The Modern Era 1945-67|
|Creating a Legend 1967-94|
|Changes to the Policing Model and the Return of Sovereignty 1994-99|
|The New Century|
|Women - An Equal Force|
|Ballistics & Sciences|
|Down Memory Lane|