SCMP Friday, August 18, 2000

Police defend guidelines for pepper spray

STELLA LEE


Police officers who break training guidelines on the use of pepper spray are not necessarily breaching internal rules, according to the force.

Police management was responding to claims an officer who used pepper spray on right-of-abode protesters during a clash outside the Central Government Offices on June 26 had not followed the guidelines.

Commanding officers have defended the senior inspector's actions, saying the use of pepper spray to control the protesters was appropriate under the circumstances.

An internal report on police operational procedures during the clash was submitted on Monday to the Security Bureau. The bureau will decide on whether any officers breached internal rules. The Department of Justice has already cleared officers of criminal liability after another police investigation.

At least three protesters complained of being assaulted by officers, including abode-seeker Chan Fong-kwai, 20, who was filmed by a television crew being punched from behind. Chan was one of 19 protesters and students arrested for allegedly taking part in and organising an illegal assembly and obstructing police. All have been bailed.

Chan - one of three protesters splashed by the pepper spray - said after the clash that the chemical had been directed at his face from only 20cm away and without warning.

Under the guidelines on the use of pepper spray - known officially as OC foam - officers have to give a verbal warning before spraying the foam at a distance from between 60cm and 245cm. Officers should also help decontaminate the person sprayed and check his or her medical history before the person is sent for treatment.

The Frontier Party said yesterday that it was shocked to hear police had not followed guidelines when using pepper spray and demanded the inquiry report be made public.

But a police spokesman said the guidelines in the training manual were not rigid. "Police officers using OC foam must exercise their skill and professional judgment in the prevailing circumstances bearing in mind the basic principles on the use of force," he said.

Support Wing Superintendent Law Cheuk-hung also said the guidelines were not hard and fast.

"The range of two to eight feet is just a distance which will produce the most effective result of OC foam. It does not mean officers cannot use the foam outside of this range," Mr Law said.

He further explained that officers were only asked to follow the advice whenever possible. Situations could develop quickly allowing no time for a warning to be issued.