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Crime & Security in Hong Kong

With an effective police and legal system, Hong Kong is one of the safest major cities in the world. Needless to say, low crime does not mean no crime, and there is no excuse to ditch your common sense. Although local people feel safe to carry a knapsack with a wallet inside, one should be wary in crowded areas where pickpockets are likely to strike, particularly at the main tourist attractions. Hence, keep wallets and bags in front of your body where you can see and feel them. Don’t leave bags hanging on the backs of seats in restaurants. Instead keep them on your lap or, if they are too large, at your feet in front of you.

There are a number of scams. Scam artists may ask you to put banknotes into their bags for a magic performance, and you get back forged notes. 'Monks' or 'fortune tellers' may say you have a 'dark' (bad luck) spot on forehead and they can bring good luck to you. Many local people find it unbelievable that this obvious scam could exist in Hong Kong, but it does.

Hong Kong has a strict service control system, so once you call 999, the police should show up within 10 minutes in most cases, usually less. The local police wear blue uniforms, and are armed with revolvers. Hong Kong has one of the highest police-to-population ratios in the world, so you’ll often see them patrolling on foot. Traffic policemen patrolling on motorbikes are also widespread. The police on the street are generally approachable if you need simple help like directions, though their standard of English varies considerably.

Under Hong Kong law, local residents are required to carry Identity Cards with them at all times, and the police frequently carry out spot checks when they have "reasonable grounds for suspicion". Tourists are advised by the government to carry their passports but unless you think you are likely to stopped by the police, most visitors choose to keep their passport in a safe place.

When there is a police search for drugs or illegal immigrants, visitors are not immune from investigation. Dressing like a hippie with a Bob Marley haircut will give you a good chance of being stopped by police. You are advised to cooperate with the police during these investigations, and understand that they may search your pockets and bags. Most locals do cooperate with the police so that they can be quickly on their way. Under Hong Kong law, you can reject a request to search your bags and body in public. You also have the right to refuse to answer any questions, to contact your embassy and to apply for legal assistance. The police are likely to agree with your request but they may detain you for up to 48 hours.

Discrimination is known to happen. People with a good educational background and reputable jobs are usually better treated by the police, while young people and those from developing countries may experience more frequent checks. The police and the government are exempt from the Race Discrimination Ordinance. However, there is a law to ban any form of police brutality, including verbal attacks and any use of foul language.

Hong Kong films have often portrayed triads as gun wielding gangsters who fear no nobody, but that only happens in the movies. Even in their heyday, triads tended to engage only in prostitution, counterfeiting or loan-sharking and lived underground lives, and rarely targeted the average person on the street. Just stay away from the triads by avoiding loan sharks and illegal betting.

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