LEGCO QUESTIONS

Preventing detainees in police stations from injuring themselves or others

31 May 2017
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LCQ21: Enhancing the safety of detention facilities
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     Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (May 31):

Question:

Regarding an incident in which a man committed suicide and died in a detention cell of a police station, the 2015 Coroners’ Report recommended to the Police that (i) the number of close-circuit television (CCTV) cameras be increased or the angles of CCTV cameras be adjusted to monitor the situation in various detention cells, (ii) contractors be arranged to conduct regular checks on the video systems and recording functions of CCTV cameras, and (iii) more monitors be installed to display the footages captured by various CCTV cameras throughout to facilitate the monitoring of the situation in various detention cells and to ensure the normal operation of CCTV cameras.  On preventing detainees in police stations from injuring themselves or others, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of cases in which detainees in police stations attempted to commit suicide in each of the past 10 years;

(2) of the number of cases in which detainees died in police stations in each of the past 10 years, and set out by year (i) the causes of their deaths, (ii) the names of the police stations concerned and (iii) the reasons for which the deceased persons were detained before death;

(3) of the details of the body searches which a detainee is currently required to undergo before entering a detention cell; whether the Police have taken measures other than body searches to prevent detainees from injuring themselves or others;

(4) of the respective numbers of police stations which currently have (i) detention cells and (ii) CCTV cameras installed in the corridors outside detention cells; whether the Police have assigned dedicated police officers to monitor the CCTV screens; the reasons why no CCTV cameras have been installed in the corridors outside some detention cells; and

(5) whether the Police have assessed if the recommendations put forward in the aforesaid report are feasible; whether the Police have implemented the recommendations; if they have implemented the recommendations, of the expenses incurred and the manpower deployed so far, and the latest progress of the relevant work; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

The Hong Kong Police Force (the Police) have all along fulfilled its duty of care to persons remanded by the Police, ensuring that their rights and safety are safeguarded.  With respect to the questions raised by the Hon Kenneth Leung, my response is as follows:

(1) and (2) Figures of detainees who “harmed themselves/attempted to commit suicide” and those who “died” in police stations in the past five years are provided in Annex.  The Police do not maintain such figures before 2012.

(3) To respect the rights of detainees and prevent unnecessary body searches, the Police classify the scope of search into three levels: (Level 1) non-removal of clothing; (Level 2) removal of clothing; and (Level 3) removal of underwear.

When a person is arrested by the Police, he/she will be brought before the Duty Officer in charge of the police detention facilities of the police station concerned, who will then decide on the level of search to be conducted.  The Duty Officer will take into consideration a series of factors relating to the detainee, such as the offence suspected to have been committed, criminal record, the level of violence exhibited when committing the suspected offence and upon arrest, suicidal tendency, previous record of self-harm (if known), etc.

The scope of a custody search on each occasion is to be determined having regard to the prevailing circumstances and shall be proportionate to such circumstances and justifiable.  After determining the scope of the custody search in view of the above factors, the Duty Officer will explain the reasons to the detainee.  If a detainee has any concerns/objections regarding the search, he/she may raise them to the Duty Officer who will reconsider his decision.  To ensure that officers concerned comply with the search procedures, supervisory officers will conduct periodic reviews of custody search records in the system and take actions on any non-compliance cases.

In addition, police officers can only conduct a search involving the removal of underwear with strong justification and it should not be conducted on a routine basis.  In conducting such searches, regard should be given to the privacy and dignity of the detainee.  For example, such searches can only be conducted in an area with privacy protection, and it must be ensured that they are not seen by any persons other than the officers required to carry out, witness or supervise the searches.

If a detainee has special conditions, such as a previous record of serious and violent offences or offences involving firearms or explosives; is being suspected of, or charged with such offences; having previously escaped from custody or  thought to have a high risk of escape, or having an expressed or known suicidal tendency, he/she will be under “Special Watch”.  In such circumstances, the officer in charge of the case is required to inform the Divisional Commander and the Duty Officer so as to make special arrangements, which include allocating to the detainee a separate cell from other detainees, and restraining the detainee in a handcuff transport belt when he/she is being moved.

Apart from the above, to ensure the safety of detainees and other persons who might be in contact with them, the Police have already introduced the use of hand-carry metal detectors.  A Duty Officer will be assigned to every detention facility to be responsible for the reception, safety, security and welfare of the detainees, as well as the regular inspection of the detention facility concerned during his shift.  Supervisory officers at all ranks will also regularly inspect the detention facility concerned.  The Police will follow the principle of single-cell occupancy as far as there is enough space in the detention facility.

Furthermore, the Police have all along been striving to enhance the detention facilities in existing, newly constructed and future police stations.  The Police conducted a comprehensive review of its detention management policy in 2008, and have implemented various improvement measures in all detention cells by 2012, such as installing hot shower facilities, enhancing the protection of privacy, and putting up notice boards in the passage outside detention cells to display notices on the rights of detainees.

At the same time, since 2010, the Police have been improving the environment of report rooms with suitable conditions and enhancing the safety of detention facilities, with relevant works completed in Central Police Station, Tsuen Wan Police Station, and Wong Tai Sin Police Station.  The relevant improvement measures include retrofitting temporary holding areas and detention cells with reinforced fibre glass walls or metal meshes and altering all wall edges to smooth rounded ones.  As for the newly constructed police stations (such as Yau Ma Tei Police Station), the Police have also increased the floor-to-ceiling height of detention cells to prevent detainees from reaching a secure spot for tying a knot on the ceiling.  The Police will, where practicable, continue to improve existing detention facilities at police stations and look into the designs for future detention facilities, with a view to affording better protection to detainees.  The upgrading works of the relevant police stations are still in progress.

(4) At present, a total of 33 out of the 42 police stations of the Police have detention cells.  These 33 police stations have closed-circuit televisions (CCTV) for monitoring the passage and exits/entrances of detention cells.  Officers on duty in report rooms monitor the situation via CCTV on shifts.

(5) The Police attach great importance to the recommendations made by the Coroner’s Court in 2015 and have forthwith implemented such recommendations with effect from April 2015, such as arranging contractors to regularly inspect the imaging system and video-recording function of CCTV, and ensuring the availability of designated screens for continuous display of the passage and exits/entrances of detention cells.  The Police have also been studying the feasibility of installing CCTV in detention facilities, which include the implications of the recommendations on detainees’ privacy, security arrangements, etc.  The Police have also been discussing with the Department of Justice on ways to follow up the recommendations of the Coroner’s Court.  The relevant work is currently underway.