Hong Kong’s police force is considering a plan to allow volunteers from other government departments to be appointed “special constables” and carry out police work, to ease pressure on frontline officers.

According to a report in the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily on Monday, the government is studying the possibility of using emergency powers or the Public Order Ordinance to allow voluntary officers from other services to be appointed “special constables” with the aim of adding extra manpower to the force.

The other government bodies the volunteers may be drawn from include the Fire Services Department, Immigration Department, Customs and Excise and the Correctional Services Department.

The newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying that although there were 30,000 police officers, only a few thousand could be deployed on frontline duties and they needed to work in shifts.

The government will study the plan by using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance or Public Order Ordinance Section 40 – Power of Chief Executive to authorize the appointment of special constables.

Special constables appointed by the Police Commissioner would have the same duty, power, protection and immunity as ordinary officers for an appointed period.

Chris Tang Ping-keung, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), said at the police press conference on Monday that all means would be considered to help enforce the law effectively.

“We would not rule it out,” he said. “But at this moment, no officers from other disciplinary forces have been appointed as special constables,” said Tang, who is tipped to be the next police chief.

Former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie said on Monday on an online radio program that it would be easy for the government to deploy other service officers to assist the police. They could help remove barricades on the road or help to handle detainees.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the police force could use auxiliary police or those who had retired for non-frontline tasks. He added that the training provided in other departments was different from the police force.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Customs Officers Union and Correctional Services Officers’ Association said they had not heard about the plan and could not assess the feasibility, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

Wong Ka-wing, the deputy chief fire officer, told an RTHK radio program that he did not have any details on hand.

He said each department had its own budget and duties and would change according to the situation in the city, adding that the fire services department would do its best to assist the government.

Police using pepper spray during a protest in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP/NurPhoto/Vernon Yuen

Meanwhile, more weapons would be given to off-duty police officers starting Tuesday, a number of local media quoted sources as saying. Off-duty officers could now carry peppery spray.

The move came after a number of attacks on police over the weekend, including one where an officer was allegedly slashed on the neck with a box cutter in Kwun Tong, and an off-duty officer was attacked by a group of people in Tseung Kwan O.

The force also responded to the city’s increasing tension among officers and protesters and an escalation of violence by giving extra armory. Officers were permitted to take batons home starting last month.

Officers get trained on how to use the pepper spray before they are permitted to take it home. They also need to report if they fire the pepper spray.