RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Protests in Hong Kong have taken a violent turn this week. Police have clashed with protesters who are barricaded inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Security officials threatened to use live ammunition. Protesters have responded with homemade explosives and pelting security officers with rocks. This morning Chris Tang, a new police chief, was sworn in. He told the South China Morning Post that police could not end the social unrest in the city on their own and needed help from Hong Kong residents.
Joining us now from Hong Kong, Clement Lai. He spent 22 years on the Hong Kong Police Force and now runs a private security company. Thank you so much for being with us.
CLEMENT LAI: You're welcome. Thanks.
MARTIN: Let me start by asking you about the police response to these demonstrations. There has been criticism of police brutality over the duration of these many weeks of protests. Do the police need to change their tactics?
LAI: It is true because all along in the past five months now, the TV news coverage are mostly on the police action alone. We will - we may be able to see 10% of the coverage on actually what the protesters were doing against the police and on the street. We are here in Hong Kong, and we saw the full picture. And Hong Kong police has been very, very restraining in regard on the response to the situation. It's been five months. They tried, as far as possible, to avoid using lethal weapons against the protesters. They're there to try to give them the chance to calm down and try to surrender to the police, and that's what we saw as well last night.
But then the new police chief maybe is a way to show his determination to try to take control of the situation and try to subdue the protesters as well. Because of what the protesters were doing and those weapons they were using against the police and pose a huge danger to the other members of public, then unavoidably the police needed to escalate their response actions. For example, the first time we saw the AR-15s being pointed at protesters, a lot of the police officers with long barrel weapons were actually loaded with live rounds in order to avoid any attacks by bows and arrows - right now (ph) the lethal weapons against them.
MARTIN: How much pressure is the police force in Hong Kong under from Beijing to show a more robust presence?
LAI: I think the Hong Kong police is definitely more than capable to deal with this situation if they were allowed themselves to use the lethal weapons in (ph) first place. We saw police officers being shot - actually shot by the arrows. They were being thrown at by the petrol bombs. And indeed, they were outnumbered by the protesters from few locations (ph) and they got seriously beaten up.
I think they have actually reached the limit. I think pressure actually generated from themselves in terms of physically and mentally exhausted. Anyway, they can't see the light at the end of any tunnel at all. I think that's the pressure the police actually are facing is the internal management of the troops in order to face this daily situation in Hong Kong.
MARTIN: There were reports that authorities - Chinese security officials - were on the streets of Hong Kong picking up the trash and debris left from some of these protests, which is a stark symbol. That doesn't happen a lot in Hong Kong - or ever. And it reminds people of harrowing images of Chinese forces on the streets in Tiananmen. How does the Hong Kong Police Force view China's presence on the streets of Hong Kong?
LAI: The police took it very, very carefully. We saw on the news coverage that the police didn't even address the assistance offered by the PLA. They are very careful with that in order to avoid any commentary regarding police are seeking the PLA's assistance to deal with the situation. But instead, the PLA were working with the Fire Services Department and other members - or the residents near the vicinity.
Police are very, very careful politically in Hong Kong. They do not want to broadcast any mistaken messages to the world. So in a way, they appreciate the help, indeed, but they cannot express that in front of any interview. So they are in that type of pressure in a way to be politically neutral in every way, and they can handle the situation themselves.
MARTIN: Clement Lai in Hong Kong. He is CEO of Clement Shield - it's a private security firm - and a former member of the Hong Kong Police Force. Thank you so much for your time.
LAI: Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.