‘Old Bill’ is comin’ to nick you (1)

Friday 26 April 2013, 8.35am HKT

3.15am, 20°C (68°F), breezy and chilly
11.19pm local time, 28°C (82°F), muggy
12.08am local time, 21°C (72°F), heavy downpours

NORMALLY I avoid making remarks (even oblique ones) about current affairs, but the Boston Marathon bombing (15 APR) has prompted some of my friends to ask me (of all people) about the proper way to interact with the authorities.

Constable Dixon 203

Constable Dixon, No. 203, of Dock Green

Nicking those who don’t know dick from dock

The short answer — NO ‘proper’ way to interact with law enforcement.

I say this not in a semi-drunken state (which I am, by the way). I say this in the semi-professional capacity of a non-practising lawyer who behaves like a faggot and wastes time as a blogger pretending to work as a financial printer.

My background was in corporate law, not criminal law. As such, I make an honest living working with crooks the likes of bankers, lawyers, accountants and government regulatory officials — the very kind who thieve, pillage and raid with brazen impunity without needing to use any form of offensive (or even inoffensive) weaponry (and get paid handsomely for it).

Yup, crime pays when you wear pinstripe suits, boyo.

The long answer is helpfully provided (below) by a serving Chief Inspector (CIP) in the Hong Kong Police Force who was my classmate in law school.

(The rank of Chief Inspector is common to most British-style police forces and usually equivalent to a Police Captain in the USA.)

First, the most important stuff — the useless trivia.

* * *


hong kong police kuwait times

UN says Hong Kong has the world’s second-highest police-to-population ratio, with 393 to 445.5 officers per 100,000 residents.

Official UN data always have an odd way of expressing statistics. Put it another way, that’s 3.9 to 4.5 officers for every 1,000 inhabitants.

Our (formerly Royal) Hong Kong Police Force:—

  • a paramilitary police force ever since first establishment in 1844 by the British
  • has 40,074 all ranks in 2012 (up from 30,087 in 2006)
  • modelled on British lines
  • operates mostly on British lines in a kind of FBI style
  • uses British police ranks (head of force is a Police Commissioner, not Chief Constable)
  • still has significant numbers of British officers in operational roles
  • still recruits new overseas officers from the UK
  • branded “the best police force money can buy” in the 1970s (geddit?)

This, for a midsized city of 7½ million souls in 1,104 sq. km (426 sq. miles) of land — or same as London’s population but 70% the area.

For comparison (all figures for 2012), Greater London is policed by the Metropolitan Police (roughly 32,000 all ranks), which also has national-level responsibilities such as counter-terrorism and VIP protection. The City of London (the financial ‘square mile’ inside Greater London) is independently policed by the City of London Police (971 all ranks), which is the world leader in investigating financial crimes.

  • In other words, Hong Kong is 12.8% to 14.4% more heavily policed than a Tier 1 capital city with a 30% larger physical area, a more diverse racial mix, and a longstanding target of terrorism.

Hong Kong has no gendarmerie. For that, our police had also functioned as a police field force from the 1950s up to the early ’90s. Especially during the 1960s–70s while the Cultural Revolution was going on in mainland China, specially trained police platoons equipped and armed as light infantry operated alongside regular British Army and Gurkha battalions in border defence and immigrant-interception operations.

China, India: the biggest ‘smallest’ police forces

By contrast, Hong Kong’s overlord the People’s Republic of China is only a 16th-ranked ‘police state.’

Official UN data for China:—

PAP serviceman

  • world’s biggest population: 1.354 billion (1,354 million) in 2012
  • world’s biggest civilian police force (PSB)
  • regular civilian police is the PSB (Public Security Bureau, 1.6 million all ranks in 2007)
  • gendarmerie (PHOTO) is the PAP (People’s Armed Police, 1.5 million all ranks in 2007)
  • PSB police-to-population ratio is 120 officers per 100,000 inhabitants (or 1.2 cops per 1,000 civilians)
  • PSB/PAP combined ratio is still only 1.6 officers per 1,000 inhabitants (because PAP is only partially involved in policing)

In other words, Hong Kong is 24.6% to 37% more heavily policed than our nearest police state.

Criminality is actually very low for the Chinese race, regardless of Triads, China-bashing news and whatnot. Indeed, China itself is having a hard time trying to reduce the sizes of its police and armed forces because of difficulties in reallocating the excess manpower requirements and conflicts with the promise of lifelong employment for those personnel.

Official UN data for India:—

  • world’s 2nd-biggest population: 1.241 billion (1,241 million) in 2012
  • world’s 2nd-biggest police force (1.5 million all ranks in 2012)
  • police-to-population ratio of 130 officers per 100,000 inhabitants (or 1.3 cops per 1,000 civilians)

The two countries, with their seemingly gigantic police forces, actually have one of the smallest police forces in relation to population size.

USA: agency overkill, jurisdiction overkill, deadly force overkill

“Why do you think Americans value the right to bear arms? Do you think they fear criminals? Any intelligent American knows the biggest ‘homegrown threat’ is our own police. Any doubts about that are long gone.” — My Catbird Seat, “Gordon Duff: A Tale of Two Cops in Cuffs,” (22 Nov 2011)

It’s hard to nail down a precise police-to-population ratio for the USA. First reason is that each state, county or municipality has its own autonomous policing institution with its own individual (and individuated) jurisdiction. Second reason is that law-enforcement personnel may be employed full or part time — unusual compared with other countries because law-enforcement personnel elsewhere is typically full-time. Third reason is that the USA never seems to have any centralised reporting for anything (witness its ‘health service’).


How the average American policeman sees himself

Official UN and FBI data show law enforcement in the USA is spread across 14,614 agencies of all types (the highest number in the world).

Together, agencies employ a nationwide total of 1,021,000 (1.021 million) full-time all ranks. Data excluded part-time personnel of all types.

Therefore, the U.S. ‘national’ (average) police-to-population ratio is 3 officers per 1,000 inhabitants (actual ratios vary from place to place).

At that ratio, you can appreciate why the USA pay precious little lip service to the concept of community policing. The primary deterrence to crime therefore falls on first-strike deadly force. There are just too many agencies dogpiling onto jurdisdictional competition, too many armed citizenry roaming about, and too much ambulance-chasing when the USA is home to 2/3rds of the world’s entire population of lawyers.

Furthermore, it’s actually a legal fiction that police and law-enforcement organisations in the USA are civilians in law because:—

  1. broadly speaking, an officer holds the ‘office’ of his rank (compared with a UK officer holding the office of ‘constable,’ irrespective of rank)
  2. an officer is accountable to his next higher superior (rather than as in the UK where all officers irrespective of rank are jointly and severally accountable to the head of force himself)
  3. personnel are trained and organised in military-like fashion (first) and receive ‘policing’ training (second) — all under the guise general heading of ‘police training’
  4. police departments operate within and subject to their own individual jurisdictions for external and internal matters (such as like the military also do)

Those four aspects already define all U.S. police forces as paramilitary or having paramilitary police roles.

However, the USA does have a number of bona fide paramilitary law-enforcement units (often with little or no actual policing work) — for instance, the SWAT teams, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the CIA Special Activities Division.

portland darth vader cops

How most Americans actually see their cops
Darth Vader ‘civilian’ police in Portland, Oregon

Those ‘truncheons’ (military combat batons, actually) are designed to KILL

Not many people know this (unless you’ve been to law school), but the ‘average’ American police force is modelled on the Tsarist Russian interior-ministry police troops.

UK: multiple constabularies in a single jurisdiction

Metropolitan Police Service Celebrates 175th Anniversary

The UK police-to-population ratio is 3.07 officers per 1,000 inhabitants, practically the same as the USA ratio.

The UK is in practice a single police jurisdiction, enforced in the form of police areas each with its own territorial police force (constabulary). All police forces are under the direct authority of the Home Office (otherwise called interior ministry in other countries).

England and Wales have 43 police areas altogether. Scotland and Northern Ireland each have a single police force. London has two police areas (the Metropolitan Police for the Greater London area and the City of London Police for the City of London ‘square mile’ within it). In all, 47 or so territorial police forces. Police territoriality is merely a matter of operational efficiency rather than of legal jurisdiction. If you’re wanted in Merseyside, you’re wanted nationwide by the Old Bill to the exact degree.

The UK has no paramilitary police forces or a gendarmerie. It does have “special police forces,” which sounds dark and sinister. Actually, these are just national police forces that have a specific but non-territorial jurisdiction. Well-known examples are:—

  • British Transport Police (railway, underground, etc)
  • Ministry of Defence Police (MOD facilities)
  • Civil Nuclear Constabulary (nuclear power stations)
  • National Crime Agency

Despite the ranks and uniforms, all UK police forces are entirely civilian in nature and in legal status. Same applies to other law enforcement bodies that are uniformed (fire and rescue services, customs and excise, prison service, port/border security) and non-uniformed (immigration, passport control, tax collection, H.M. Inspectorate). Although police and other law-enforcement personnel have wide-ranging powers, all are still civilians and are subject to the same laws as members of the general public. This is in stark contrast to the UK’s colonial and ex-colonial police forces, 99% of which are paramilitary police forces.

(Exceptionally, UK policemen are legally barred from taking industrial action (strikes) and are banned from participating in active politics.)

Interestingly, police constables (at least in the 1970s and ’80s) were warned to avoid referring to the general public as ‘civilians.’ I don’t know if the Old Bill today have the same attitude.

All policemen in the UK are ‘constables’ in law, irrespective of rank (because all hold the ‘office of constable’). Head of every territorial police force is the Chief Constable (or Police Commissioner for the two London police forces). All Chief Constables and Commissioners are equal in rank. Police rank is identical nationwide up to Chief Superintendent (roughly equivalent to the American ‘head/deputy head of police department’ or ‘chief/deputy chief of police’). The two London forces have the extra rank of Commander (equal to Assistant Chief Constable in the territorial police forces). Since ‘constable’ is an appointment, rank in British police is essentially an externally awarded management grade.

Note, too, rank in UK police isn’t linked to legal authority:—

“In any case, police officers have powers of arrest that transcend rank and policemen are perfectly entitled to dispute orders that are contrary to law. It’s a classic case of ‘I think you are mistaking YOUR rank with MY authority’.” — Army Rumour Service, ca. 2006

punk vs policeUK police ranks have no official equivalence to military ranks. A constable isn’t obliged to salute an army officer (since policemen don’t even salute their own, anyway). British police as a whole was specifically designed to be as unmilitary as possible by Sir Robert Peel back in the 19th century.

This is in contrast to the Continent (Europe), where police DO have military equivalence because they can often trace a common heritage or ancestry to military or paramilitary forces.

It’s also in contrast to the USA, where (usually senior) police officers and civilian government officials are given equivalent military rank so that they have the right clearance, etc, when working alongside military personnel. For example, the White House director of communication is officially equivalent to a three-star lieutenant-general.

  • With the increasing militarisation of policing worldwide, non-equivalence to military ranks might well change for the police in the UK, and probably in other countries as well.

As police jurisdiction in the UK is a single one, a policeman has cross-border authority, meaning that he retains all the power, authority, protection an privileges of his office regardless of his location. A policeman from one police area exercises full powers in another police area. An English bobby has the same powers when in Scotland, and vice versa. Northern Ireland is a special exception because of its unique policing arrangements and politics. The UK doesn’t have the time-wasting macho-boy nonsense that a New York cop has no jurisdiction in Los Angeles.

The most ‘policed’ state

The world’s ‘most policed’ state is actually the Vatican City (130 officers), which extrapolates to around 15,000 officers per 100,000 inhabitants (or 15 cops for every 1,000 civilians).

rome policeConventional wisdom usually holds that the higher the police manpower, the more the place is a police state.

The Vatican isn’t a police state — it’s a police fashion show.

Vatican policemen (Italians in all but name) are not the brutal, latent homo-erotic goons the Yanks, Poms, Krauts, Ruskies and Frogs are.

Vaticanos have learnt that it’s plain sensible community policing to do the occasional catwalk in their Armani-designed uniforms — while trying to chat up naïve American MILFs, or sneer at ugly, sagging British birds from Nottingham, or make benign racist catcalls at illegal Chinese immigrant chicks who wear hotpants with high heels and expired visas.

For the rest of Italy, the national police-to-population ratio is 4.17 officers per 1,000 inhabitants for a population of 59½ million. Italy has five national police forces (three of which belong in the armed forces structure) plus provincial and city police forces (altogether, 350,000 all ranks in 2007).

italian police

I personally consider Italian police to have the world’s best-looking police uniforms, mainly because 75% of everything in the English-speaking world is such a goddamn failure.

“I mean, you can discern a lot about the use, abuse, and respect for law in certain countries just by the way the officers are dressed (and no, I don’t mean cultural mores).”

I also happen to consider Israeli policewomen to have the best cleavage … ahem … I mean, operational efficiency…

israeli soldiers

Wanna get arrested?
Yeah, I would love to see their “Gaza Strips”… (geddit?)

(hat tip to Ilana S. for photo)

Putting things in perspective

Everybody calls everybody else a police state. How true is that?

The term ‘police state’ means different things to different people. Let’s settle on just the level of actual policing because, in many people’s minds, police presence in everyday life is a practical manifestation of a police state.

Let’s calculate the free-floating UN and FBI data above into reasonably understandable relational terms.

Raw data (from above):—

  • USA law-enforcement manpower 1.021 million full-time all ranks
  • China law-enforcement manpower 1.6 million all ranks
  • India law-enforcement manpower 1.5 million all ranks
  • Italy law-enforcement manpower 350,000 all ranks
  • Hong Kong law-enforcement manpower 40,074 all ranks
  • USA population 312 million
  • China population 1,354 million (= 1.354 billion)
  • India population 1,241 million (= 1.241 billion)
  • Italy population 59.5 million
  • Hong Kong population 7.5 million

Looking from the USA side:—

world according to americans

USA population is…

  • 450% (4½ times) smaller than CHINA or INDIA
  • 524% (5½ times) bigger than ITALY
  • 4160% (41½ times) bigger than HONG KONG

USA law enforcement is a…

  • smaller manpower than CHINA or INDIA by 36% (1/3rd) for a 4½ times smaller population (in other words, 64% or 2/3rds the manpower of China/India)
  • bigger manpower than ITALY by 291% (3 times) for a 5½ times bigger population
  • bigger manpower than HONG KONG by 2548% (25½ times) for a 41½ times bigger population

Looking from the other side:—

america according to rest of the world

Americans according to the world…


  • CHINA or INDIA is 450% (4½ times) bigger than the USA population
  • ITALY is 524% (5½ times) smaller than the USA population
  • HONG KONG is 4160% (41½ times) smaller than the USA population

Law enforcement in…

  • CHINA or INDIA is just a 56% (a half) bigger manpower than the USA for a 4½ times bigger population
  • ITALY has a 291% (3 times) smaller manpower than the USA for a 5½ times smaller population
  • HONG KONG has a 2548% (25½ times) smaller manpower than the USA for a 41½ times smaller population

In other words (to allow objective like-to-like comparison):—

  • USA has a 2½ times bigger manpower than China/India manpower after adjusting the USA population to equal to China/India population

The bottom line:— the USA is 2½ times more heavily policed than China or India, yet at least 10 times the crime rate of those two countries.

That’s what immediately struck me when I looked at the UN and FBI data even before doing my sums.

In real life and on the ground, the USA REALLY DOES feel twice more heavily policed than either China (characterised as an outright police state) or India (characterised as a parliamentary democracy with police state characteristics).

Disclaimer:— The above isn’t some mathematical or statistical trickery. I don’t want to lie to my readers. I’m doing this for my own benefit too, so I’m not going to lie to myself either. All I did was just use junior secondary-school arithmetic, and nothing more. It’s not hard.

Interestingly, UN and FBI data show that, at any given moment, there are:—

  • 3 serial killers on the loose in China
  • 21 serial killers on the run in India
  • 200 serial killers at large in the USA







© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2013. (B13124)

Images: Featured image is PC Dixon of Dock Green, played by Jack Warner OBE, via author’s collection. (1) Hong Kong police via Kuwait Times (2) People’s Armed Police via Facts and Details (3) Dirty Harry movie poster via c4c (4) Portland police via Wonkette (5) London Metropolitan Police by Scott Barbour/Getty Images via The Hollywood Reporter (6) Punk vs. Police by Xinhua News Agency via China Daily Online (7) Carabinieri in Rome via The Fedora Lounge (8) Italian civilian police via The Fedora Lounge (9) Israeli soldiers/policewomen via Disclose.tv (10) The World According to Americans via c4c (11) America According to The Rest of the World via Geofftech.co.uk.

4 Responses to “‘Old Bill’ is comin’ to nick you (1)”

  1. Jay said

    “the USA REALLY DOES feel twice more heavily policed than either China”

    Well, maybe to some people.

    In 10 years of living in China, I guess I saw maybe 2 to 5 policemen per day – either in intersections or standing around.
    On days when motorcades passed – maybe 30 policemen or more.

    In my state in the US, I see maybe 1 policeman per week, and that’s usually driving past someone who was stopped for speeding. On the 4th of July, maybe 20 who’ve joined the parade, or are along the parade route.

    And I live near a city of ~ 300,000 – which is the biggest in my state.

    We have:
    city police (which I almost never see)
    county sheriffs (who patrol outside the city limits – and I see occasionally)
    state police (who patrol the highways – the ones I usually see)
    F.B.I. – who I’ve seen once in my life – when they were asking about a friend who is now in a sensitive office.

    (My friend warned us to be on our best behavior when he knew we’d be questioned – we all jokingly replied, “Of course, comrade Tim! You are good communist!”)


    • Well, twice more policing in the States is the general consensus of people I asked (foreigners and U.S. citizens). I’m with on about seeing barely one or two policemen a week, even back in the 1970s when my folks and I were in L.A. In Hong Kong, I see around half dozen per day, which I can excuse on being a smaller city. But China Police (PSB) is a helluva lot more ominous (and inefficient and ruder), as I’m sure you know more than I do in your experience.


  2. Ed Hurst said

    I think your assessment of the US situation is accurate. As you know, I’ve worked around US law enforcement an awful lot more than I really wanted.


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