Hong Kong police have reportedly taken delivery of at least 500 body-armor suits from an unspecified materiel supplier in mainland China to arm emergency units garrisoned on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon East and in New Territories South, as the force’s top brass rejig equipment and tactics to repel radicals from protest flashpoints.
The reinforced suits can shield frontline constables and commandants from sharp objects such as daggers, makeshift batons and even bullets fired from small-caliber firearms. Each suit costs around 3,000 yuan (US$420) and weights about 8 kilograms with thickened layers for ballistic protection, significantly heavier than those bought from France after the city’s Mong Kok riot in 2014. But it is said that these suits fit the body better with adjustable Velcro shoulder straps to cater to an officer’s height.
The armored vests are of the same specification as those already in use by mainland Chinese law-enforcement agencies including the military police.
A wider rollout of the new suits to the force’s frontline formations is also expected, after the trial use by paramilitary emergency squads, whose members are responsible for tackling unauthorized rallies and occupations and responding to citizen’s calls to the emergency 999 hotline.
It is understood that the police will provide feedback to the manufacturer for further tweaks to the design.
A police spokesman told reporters that the new gear was part of the force’s response to escalating violence to protect officers and even save their lives in head-on clashes with protesters, stressing the defensive nature of the suits.
Last Sunday a sergeant drew his gun and fired a warning shot when he and several other officers were hemmed in on all sides by demonstrators brandishing sticks and metal rods in a failed dispersal operation in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, after a march against the government ended in fierce scuffles.
Hong Kong continues to teeter on the brink of anarchy as protests drag on into a third month, even after the cotu government was pushed to revoke an extradition bill that would have allowed rendition of fugitives to mainland China for trial.
The police have vetoed an application for another mass rally to be held on Saturday through the heart of Hong Kong’s shopping and business precincts from Causeway Bay to Central, citing grave risks to public security and claiming that similar processions during the past two months had been “hijacked” by instigators and descended into chaos. Yet the police have been on the lookout for troublemakers to rein in illegal assemblies as the weekend approaches, and the China-made body armor suits have come in handy.
Hong Kong police may increasingly have to turn to China to furnish them with more equipment, after the United Kingdom said in June that it would review export permits of crowd-control tools such as teargas and rubber bullets amid claims of police brutality. The force also imports teargas grenades regularly from the United States, but some politicians and lawmakers there including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have also talked of a ban.