Frontline police officers equipped with guns and other lethal weapons may expect greater autonomy on their use. Photo: Xinhua
Frontline police officers equipped with guns and other lethal weapons may expect greater autonomy on their use. Photo: Xinhua

The National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, has been mulling a new bill to give more power to frontline police officers, and in the meantime, the Ministry of Public Security has been inviting public comments on its own initiatives to boost the authority of public security organs in enforcing laws.

Observers believe that Beijing may make assaults on police officers a felony and expect courts to mete out more severe punishments with the guidelines.

However, one clause in the bill granting impunity to police officers when discharging their duties could be a source of concern. Some argue that when there is no third-party, independent police complaints council in place, granting quasi-extraterritoriality to officers may encourage police brutality.

All police officers are currently required to use recording equipment while carrying out their duties, a policy that started in 2014.

Regulations governing police use of weapons and force stipulate that police personnel can use their batons only in self-defense or when necessary to subdue or prevent the escape of violent criminals or rioters. Lethal weapons, such as pistols, can only be used when it is absolute necessary to stop violent riots or to save lives.

Some people are also wondering whether the stringent rules on the use of firearms may be loosened. The bill under discussion may give greater autonomy to officers on when to use firearms or other lethal weapons.

In the past, many policemen in China were only given expandable batons, incapacitant sprays or multiple-use tactical knives, but since the 2000s all frontline personnel have been trained to use sidearms, such as the 9×19mm double-action revolver manufactured by the China North Industries Corporation.

For more firepower, detectives and members of special units are routinely armed with Type 77 and QSZ-92 semi-automatic pistols. Submachine-guns, rifles and light machine guns are deployed when more firepower are required.

According to an existing guidance issued by the Ministry of Public Security, police may use firearms to protect anyone, including themselves, from the threat of death or serious injury. They may use firearms only when no lesser degree of force can subdue the attacker, and police officers must give verbal warnings in advance, as far as circumstances permit.