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Hong Kong’s ranking in global law and order index plunges

A new index by the US firm Gallup has found that people’s perceptions of personal security and their faith in police has plummeted. (South China Morning Post photo)
A new index by the US firm Gallup has found that people’s perceptions of personal security and their faith in police has plummeted. (South China Morning Post photo)

Hong Kong's ranking in a new index of public perceptions of law and order has dropped dramatically, plunging far below the mainland's, putting the city's sense of security and faith in its police force on par with the likes of Burkina Faso.

The 2020 Global Law and Order Index, conducted by the US-based advisory and analytics firm Gallup, measured people's level of confidence in their police and their perceptions of personal security in 144 countries and regions around the world, scoring each on a 100-point scale.

Hong Kong's score this year was 76 - below the global average of 82 - putting it in 82nd place worldwide, tied with Burkina Faso and Nepal.

The ranking represents a precipitous drop from 2018 - the last year Hong Kong was included - when the city scored a 91 on the index, clocking in at a respectable fifth place globally.

While the index was published this year, its findings reflect respondents' feelings last year, just as faith in Hong Kong's police was being severely shaken by their handling of a massive anti-government protest movement sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Singapore topped this year's index, as it has every year since 2015, with a score of 97, tying with Turkmenistan. China, meanwhile, came in third, with a score of 95 - up from 91 the year before, and 88 in 2017. Xinjiang and Tibet, where the central government has been accused of major human rights abuses, were excluded from China's sample.

Hong Kong's score was calculated based on telephone surveys conducted by the US polling between August and October of last year. The firm surveyed 1,004 Hong Kongers aged 15 and above, and asked them about their confidence in the local police force, their level of safety walking alone at night and the prevalence of theft, assault and muggings over the past year.

Hong Kong's plunge in the rankings was something of an outlier, with the Gallup report noting that scores for most of the countries and territories surveyed had remained within more or less the same range over the past few years.

The extradition bill that sparked last year's protests was eventually scrapped, but not before the massive peaceful demonstrations it prompted had morphed into a broader, and frequently violent, movement for greater police accountability and universal suffrage.

Engaged in increasingly routine street battles in which extremists blocked roads, vandalised shops and at times threw bricks and petrol bombs, police fired 16,223 rounds of tear gas, 10,108 rubber bullets, 1,885 sponge grenades, 2,033 beanbag rounds and 19 live rounds of ammunition between June 2019 and May 2020.

A total of 8,981 people were arrested over that period for offences including rioting, common assault and arson, with politicians on both sides of the aisle on Thursday tracing the city's dismal new ranking back to last year's unrest.

Former Hong Kong security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, also an adviser on the city leader's de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, said the results were to be expected amid an overall spike in crime.

"Last year, our law and order situation was highly adversely impacted by the violent crimes brought about by the unrest and protests," she said. "There were more robberies and fraud as well, as the economy worsened. I hope that things will gradually improve this year."

Ip, who also serves as a pro-establishment lawmaker, pointed out that last year there was also a series of controversies involving law enforcement.

"Rightly or wrongly, the police were subject to a lot of complaints because they were at the front line. Scores of people, some said millions, took to the streets last year - some must be unhappy when officers were there to enforce the law," she said.

But Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, of the Democratic Party, blamed the worst of the unrest on government intransigence.

"The government kept ignoring the people's opposition [to the anti-extradition bill] and the police brutality worsened the situation," Lam said, referring to widespread accusations that police had used excessive force in dealing with protesters.

"I don't think Hong Kong is as safe as before, because the police force sides with the pro-establishment camp, leading to many cases of them using violence without any consequences," he added.

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