Opinion – Watchful eyes

This week, and in between the constant updates over that illness that shall not be named, the Macau Public Security Forces Discipline Supervision Committee published its small but interesting activity report for last year.

Created in 2005 to monitor public security forces, only last year did an Executive Order grant this supervising body more “independence”, as its main secretary and advisers will no longer be appointed by the Secretary for Security, but by the Chief Executive.

The committee also expanded its membership, from seven to eleven people, with authorities saying that its members should be people with a “track record of positive contributions to the community” – a rather subjective eligibility requirement.

The members of this important committee are quite ‘eclectic’ and include President Leonel Alves – a renowned lawyer and former legislator, gaming businessman and Fujian community heavyweight Chan Meng Kam, and Macau International Airport Company Limited’s Chairman – Ma Iao Hang.

The committee supervisory powers are also no longer limited to assessing complaints, the group is now able to carry out inquiries – within its limited scope – to determine whether those complaints involve the infringement of security force members’ functional duties or other irregularities, and to give recommendations to the police force.

However, it is still up to public security officials to consider whether disciplinary proceedings or other measures for improvement ought to be initiated.

The report itself claims that the committee received 114 complaints last year, most of which involved the Public Security Police Force while several others involved traffic law enforcement.

Eight pages only reported committees meetings and activities during the year and provided several photos documenting the various events – one of these pages just stated that the committee continued to broadcast awareness ads at TDM radio.

Then, the report featured some general descriptions of the complaints received that sparked some interest.

At one point, the committee noted cases in which police officers, whether on duty or off duty, were called by family or friends to assist in conflict resolutions, and recommended that officers refrain from such behaviour so as to avoid a conflict of interest and eroding any idea of impartiality from the police.

In another wise piece of advice, the committee suggested officers avoid parking illegally in non-authorized areas or private spaces. Furthermore, officers are advised to swiftly allow detainees to communicate their situation to relatives.

In one instance it seems that an ambulance was used for personal reasons. This behavior was also not condoned by the ever vigilant committee.

Apparently, police officers will need to be reminded to abstain from these practices.

In another paragraph, the committee demanded that a public disclosure be made of any offenses and criminal/disciplinary actions, if any, to prevent safety breaches and preserve rights to images and privacy against the agents who operate the data collected by the video surveillance system.

One hopes that such practices are already customary, considering that a new Cybersecurity Law has been in force since December 2019, and that local authorities are still working on installing 4,200 surveillance cameras by 2028.

Last year, the committee only ended up issuing eight disciplinary proceedings, four of which resulted in sanctions, three are ongoing, and one was archived.

The report concluded by stating that the mentioned cases were only exceptions to a local “police culture dedicated to providing public services”.

Interestingly, the report’s last six pages entailed a detailed recommendation concerning coercive ID checks, with the committee affirming that those can only be conducted for internal security reasons and are merely preventive.

It was also established that taking someone to a police station for identification is to be considered as an administrative restriction, or of security and freedom of movement – not a criminal procedural detention, adding that the maximum six-hour custody period for identification purposes starts from the moment the
citizen was prevented from moving freely, and not merely from the moment he/she entered the premises.

From the moment the identification is achieved, the citizen must be released, and police is warned not to spend six hours on a criminal investigation which has nothing to do with the procedure because this would go against the detained’s rights.

The committee does not specify the reason for this recommendation, but it does remind of a chaotic night in August of last year when some local residents were taken for several hours to a local police station after having provided their identification, over suspicions of being involved in an illegal protest.

Local residents in general have a positive view of CPSP officers, but a police force is only as strong as the vigilance on their behavior.

Let’s hope the committee continues to keep an eye on the officers and ensure their behavior doesn’t stray from the right path, even if it can only issue strong worded recommendations.

MNA Editor-in-Chief