Riot police officers deliberately conceal their numbers with yellow stickers during the Mong Kok unrest

8th July 2019 – (Hong Kong) Many protestors who were present at the unrest in Mong Kok yesterday questioned why many riot police officers deliberately concealed their numbers on their vests with yellow stickers.

According to Jessica Smith who wrote on this issue on boingboing.net, many of us believe that we can ask any police officer for their name or badge number, and that a refusal to provide it is a violation of the law. We are often outraged when officers conceal their identities, especially when they are suspected of wrongdoing. But even when policy or legislation mandates that they disclose, officers rarely receive punishment if they fail to do so.

Section 20-14 of Police General Orders stipulates that where a group of uniformed police officers is operating together, for example during a licensing raid, only one of the uniformed police officers present shall produce his warrant card on request.

Officers may have no obligation to wear identification at all, let alone disclose it on request. Moreover, departmental policies that do require identification often allow broad discretion for an officer, or commanders, to suspend the rule if they experience a threat, be it a present danger or existential, such as someone later using that information to harass.

In summary, there’s an affirmative right for anyone to demand a police officer’s information, but the officer has many reasons to deny this, and there’s no specific repercussion in the rules. 

During a riot, if commanders believe there’s a potential threat, they’ll allow covering up nametags and badges, and allow officers to refuse to respond to requests for identification. There’s no discipline if a commander allows it or requires it, and even if officers hide their identity, there’s very little chance of subsequent repercussions.

In our imperfect democracy, the watchmen can’t be watched, because we often don’t know who they are, nor have any tools to find them.