Crimebuster: Senior superintendent Alice Lee talks policing in Lantau
- Written by Martin Lerigo, 1 December 2016
Senior superintendent Alice Lee, Lantau’s new district commander, discusses the fascinating peculiarities of her new patch with Martin Lerigo.
Senior superintendent Alice Lee, Lantau’s new district commander, has a friendlier and more vivacious exterior than you might anticipate from a scrupulous enforcer of laws. Don’t be fooled however, underneath the bonhomie lies a steely determination and tenacious spirit.
Nine months into her new job, Alice enjoys bringing the wealth of experience that comes with over 20 years on the force to Lantau’s green and pleasant shores. Previous roles have seen her working against triads, going undercover against drug dealers and being part of the Hong Kong Police Force’s internal affairs team.
Alice has worked all over the territory but this is her first time policing the outlying islands, a move she was looking forward to but with some intrigue as to what she would find.
“Policing Lantau is similar to policing any other area of Hong Kong, just with some local peculiarities,” Alice opens. While the demographic is certainly diverse, Alice’s patch extends from the high-rise conurbation of Tung Chung, where her headquarters is situated, all the way to South Lantau’s somewhat sleepier backwaters.
So, what particular peculiarities has Alice noticed on the job? She pauses for a moment: “Well, the sheer number of environmental concerns brought to us by the local community is a first for me, from illegal landfilling and felling of incense trees to land and parking disputes, not to mention the safety of the wild cows and buffaloes.
“When I was a younger officer policing the depths of Kwun Tong, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would one day be dealing with such issues,” Alice adds. “That’s the beauty of policing, the sheer mix and variety of situations you have to deal with means every day is unique.”
Alice’s team is actively involved in the on-going dialogue between the Transport Department and local organisations about the increase in permits for the South Lantau Road – and the effect this is having on our feral bovine population. “Caring for the cows and buffaloes remains a top priority,” Alice says. “We do get complaints about them slowing down traffic but most people like them. They are a huge asset and their lives are precious – they are a species that we humans should be protecting. We need to educate drivers to be careful on the narrow roads of Lantau.”
Interestingly, the old Cheung Sha police station regularly hosts visitors from the local herd. “They often flock to the Cheung Sha operations base, particularly during the last typhoon, when they used it to take shelter,” Alice reveals. “We are happy to let them stay there.”
Another issue that is high on Alice’s agenda is protecting Lantau’s indigenous incense trees; the very trees that gave Hong Kong its name, ‘fragrant harbour.’ The tree is protected here in Hong Kong but its fragrant resin (used in Chinese medicine) is in huge demand from the mainland market. Earlier this year, Alice’s officers received several complaints about illegal felling. Local environmentalists have been working closely with Alice’s officers to try and catch the tree poachers.
“I’m pleased to say we have seen a downturn in trees being felled, although we continue to see trees being ‘prepped,’ made ready for felling at a later stage,” Alice says. “Realistically we can’t have officers deployed across all of the country parks the whole time, so this is where we really need the support of the public. If you see activity that looks suspicious, when you are out hiking or cycling, then please report it to us straight away.”
With just 300 officers at her disposal to police the whole of Lantau, an island twice the size of Hong Kong Island, Alice has to make calculated decisions as to where her resources will be deployed.
“It’s always a balance, the police are here to serve the whole community and our policing methods must address the needs of many different groups,” she says. “We focus on the four Cs: Care, Collaboration, Capacity and Capability.” Care is about looking after everyone on Lantau, be they residents, local visitors or international travellers. Collaboration focuses on working with different sectors of society, from district councillors, rural committee members and environmental groups to individual citizens. Capacity is limited to some extent by budget and resources but Alice is keen to explore innovative force multipliers, like working with other government departments and building connections with the public. Capability is driven through constant training and improvement.
“We genuinely want the public to send us ideas and suggestions about how things can be done better, more efficiently or more innovatively,” Alice says.
Burglary and organised crime
With the overall crime rate falling on Lantau, Alice has established dedicated units to tackle particular issues. One area of concern is the perennial problem of burglary. “Christmas and Chinese New Year always see a spike in burglaries; we need to work closely with the community to tackle this,” Alice says. “We have a zero-tolerance policy and the public can be reassured that we actively investigate and physically attend every burglary that is reported to us.
“Later this year, we will be starting a crime road show across Lantau to engage the public on how to prevent crime and how to help us detect those responsible for committing it.”
How about serious and organised crime? Does Lantau have a problem; does it harbour any major criminals? “Not really,” is Alice’s inscrutable response. “We simply do not tolerate them.” The flash of steely determination returns, the same quality that saw Alice succeed as a competitive swimmer in her youth, a pastime she still pursues by swimming for a police team.
So what does she do to wind down after dealing with all the vagaries of crime and criminality? “I enjoy painting, especially landscapes, of which there are many in Lantau,” Alice reveals. “I love to hike, especially here on Lantau which is blessed with some of the territory’s best trails. Maybe this is the perfect place for me after all.”