It was 1841 when Commodore Sir Gordon Bremer rst raised the Union Jack at Possession Point. The First Opium War between Britain and China was ongoing and crime was spiralling out of control. Gambling dens, brothels and opium dealers were springing up in Hong Kong as quickly as the population who used them expanded. The watchmen who walked the streets at night, banging gongs to keep away bad spirits and miscreants, just weren’t enough.
In response to the messy situation, The Colonial Police Force was of cially born on May 1, 1844. Back then, there were only 32 of cers serving a population of around 20,000 people. They had a pretty rough start but, in only a few short decades, the force, led rst by Charles May and into the 20th century by Francis Henry May, had signi cantly curbed crime in the booming city, as well as helping to eradicate the deadly plague that struck in the 1890s.
After many of the serving of officers were killed during the Second World War, the force had to experience a rebirth. With numbers diminished, facilities destroyed and Triads running the streets after the Japanese occupation, it was a tall order for Commissioner Duncan MacIntosh, who was appointed in 1946. In the following few years, a million refugees poured over the border from Shenzhen, eeing the Chinese Civil War. Riots broke out amid political clashes between the new arrivals, and looters and Triads revelled in the violence. As a direct result, the Police Tactical Unit was formed in 1958.
“On June 7, 1989, I made the front page of every Chinese newspaper worldwide,” says Mick Flanders, with deliberate poise. Flanders – not his real name – joined the Hong Kong Police Force in 1983 and is due to retire in the next four months. His 31 years of service have taken him through plenty of groundbreaking moments in the city’s formation, from 1984’s Sino-British declaration and the handover in 1997 to the recent Occupy protests, which have presented the force with one of its biggest challenges to date.
Flanders was in our city during the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre – an event that shocked 1.5 million Hongkongers into taking to the streets. The protests were largely peaceful but there were flashpoints – and Flanders, a chief inspector in the force, was papped at one of the scenes. “The image was taken when I was part of a police tactical unit fighting a riot in Mong Kok,” he says. “The riot had been instigated by the Communist party and patriotic Triads. It had all been building up for months. We dealt with it with old-style policing – short, sharp tactics. Not the hand-to-hand combat you see nowadays.”
Flanders’ brief but widespread encounter with the media during the Tiananmen fallout in Hong Kong highlights the huge impact on the public that our police make when it comes to dealing with the sporadic-yet-critical protests and political events that have shaped the city over the past two centuries. Nowadays, of course, officers are documented by thousands of smartphone cameras and every wrong move is a potential PR pitfall. But this wasn’t always the case. The force in Hong Kong has a long history. In fact, 2014 marks its 170th anniversary, making it one of the city’s oldest institutions.