the public. For example, during a protest in Mong Kok in 2014, superintendent Frankly Chu King of the Hong Kong police force used excessive force against pedestrians who were unknowingly caught up in the protest . One of the pedestrians, named Osman Cheng, filed a complaint against Chu for unlawful assault by a police officer. The IPPC established by a majority decision that the complaint made by Cheng was justified. Despite this decision of the IPPC, which was based on overwhelmingly convincing evidence that there had been a serious breach of conduct by Cheng, the CAPO decided that this wasn’t so, and Chu escaped prosecution altogether.
In other words, the IPPC, which is an independent body with the very purpose of reviewing complaints of citizens to the address of police officers, was bluntly ignored by the CAPO. This clearly indicates that the scope of power of the IPPC is not sufficient for it to operate in an effective way. What is the point of having an institution that takes complaints and investigations of police officers under review, if a decision by that institution that a complaint is justified, can simply be overturned by the CAPO? For the IPPC to be effective, it should be given the power to investigate police officers itself, without having to rely on the CAPO. Only when an independent body is able to investigate a police officer to establish if there has been a breach of conduct, can an objective judgement be the outcome.
In many overseas countries, especially in Northern Europe, the manner in which police officers are investigated differ significantly. In this essay, the system by which police officers are investigated in the Netherlands will be discussed, as this is the system that I am most familiar with.
In the Netherlands, the investigation of alleged misconduct of a police officer is bound to a much higher level of bureaucracy and regulations. There are three ways of internal investigation of police officers, with their own goals and form of external control: The Rijksrecherge, Bureaus for Internal Investigation and Citizens Complaints.
The Rijksrecherge is a national agency which is supervised by the head of the Public Prosecution Department. The investigation will be conducted by the Rijksrecherge in cases where the complaint is of a very sensitive nature. For instance, conduct of a police officer that resulted in death or serious injury, or criminal behavior of officers that could seriously damage the functioning of the Dutch Government. Because the head of the Public Prosecution Department supervises these investigations, there is at every moment of the investigation a high level of external control by a party that has the power to decide upon the possible prosecution of a police officer.
For complaints that are expected to result in disciplinary action or criminal prosecution, a complaint can be filed to the Bureau for Internal Investigation. Here, the head of the Public Prosecution, the police force manager and the chief officer will supervise the investigation of the police department. At the beginning of the investigation, a preliminary hearing will be held. If this hearing indicates that disciplinary action is apparent, the police force manager will oversee the investigation, but he will still have to answer to the public prosecutor. On the other hand, if criminal prosecution is apparent the public prosecutor will oversee the investigation.
For less serious complaints, a citizen can file a Citizen Complaint to the Regional Police Board. In this case, the investigation is led by a complaint investigator of the Police Force. However, the investigation will still be overseen by a Regional Complaints Commission, which consists of judges, mayors and lawyers. The commission has the power to intervene the investigation by way of holding hearings and advising the complaint investigator. As follows, the Complaints Commission still has a significantly higher scope of power than the IPPC in Hong Kong does.
To put it in a nutshell, for each type of investigation of police misconduct in the Netherlands, it is bound to a much higher degree of external control, compared to Hong Kong. Additionally, these external parties have the power to actively participate in the investigation and intervene if necessary. The upside to this system is that police officers will hardly ever escape from taking responsibility for actions they perform as a public servant. The downside is that it does entail a higher level of bureaucracy. With more parties involved in the investigations, they are bound to take a lot longer to complete.
It is hard to say if this system of investigating police officers should be adopted by Hong Kong. The Netherlands and Hong Kong are two very different countries, which each country having their own values, history and culture. However, both countries are highly developed countries that would certainly benefit from a police force that is only allowed to exercise its powers if they are under strict external control. I would not deem it desirable for Hong Kong to adopt the same level of external control when it comes to investigating police misconduct, because it wouldn’t be feasible to change the system of external control in such a radical way.
However, at the very least, Hong Kong does need to have an external party that not only monitors police misconduct investigations, but also plays an active role in it. As such, the IPPC should be given the power to investigate the police officers itself and give a binding judgment on whether or not disciplinary action and/or prosecution is justified.