Chinese police advised to revamp training in face of grave terror threats

Source:Phoenix Weekly Published: 2015-6-17 19:43:01

The risk of terrorist incidents is growing, but the capability of regular Chinese policemen to handle a sudden terrorist attack is inadequate. Police experts warn that officers urgently need training in shooting and dealing with emergencies. This may require restructuring both the way police are trained and the way departments are structured.

Police snipers from a Special Weapons and Tactics team practice shooting in a training base in Beijing on August 5, 2014. Photo: CFP

In a quiet corner of an Internet cafe in Beijing stands a young man donning a shirt embossed with the logo "East Turkestan," a gun in his hand. Ten minutes later, local police arrive for a routine security check. When they see him, they are shocked, and instinctively step back. After a few moments, they realize the danger he poses and tackle him, forcing him to the ground. The man screams, "Stop. I am a policeman too!"

Suddenly several other people enter the café, and explain to the policemen they are an evaluation team from the Ministry of Public Security.

"If this young man was really a terrorist, you might already be dead," they tell the local officers.

Terror attacks are taking place around the globe, from the slaughter at the Charlie Hebdo office, to the massacre on the Kenya university campus, to the rise of the Islamic State. Extremism is rising around the world, and China is no exception. According to the data from UK's Economic and Peace Research think tank, China has been rated "high risk" over the last five years on their Terrorism Index.

Fan Xin, a police veteran who worked with the Los Angeles Police Department for seven years, says that China is more and more like other countries.

"The most crucial thing is the frontline policemen. Those policemen in our neighborhoods, at local districts, must be more professional [in order to deal with the threat of a terror attack]," Fan said. "A big city will normally have more than 10,000 policemen, and all those policemen should have basic anti-terrorism skills. This allows for an instant response to deal with terrorism events, instead of training an elite force of a couple of hundred officers and waiting for them to arrive at a scene."

There are two types of policemen in Chinese mainland: regular police, and highly trained, heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) forces. Fan warns that when terrorists strike, the first law enforcement they encounter will surely be the regular police, who are not prepared to deal with them, rather than SWAT forces, who are better prepared.

The way Fan sees it, China's SWAT teams do not meet international standards, but are rather a group of police with guns.

But even if they were highly qualified, relying on a small number of teams would be inadequate in any city anywhere in the world.

"When terrorist attacks occur, they require an instant response from frontline policemen," Fan said. "Normally, police should establish a strong frontline team, and then develop a special police force, like Hong Kong. That is to say, average policemen must have anti-terrorism knowledge and skills."

On March 24, China executed three people for a mass stabbing that killed 31 people on March 1, 2014, at the Kunming Railway Station in Yunnan Province. That attack shocked the nation. In its wake, authorities started training Chinese police how to use firearms across the nation.

The struggle against terrorism is not limited to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It has extended to other parts of China, including Guangdong and Yunnan provinces. In response to this growing threat, an official at the Ministry of Public Security said that China should focus on training police, giving them a broader range of professional abilities.

China's existing anti-terrorism systems are vague and incomplete. Over the last two years, China has focused on legislation for anti-terrorism resources. The nation's first anti-terrorism law was submitted to the National People's Congress last October. It is expected to be put into action later this year.

In March, Party Secretary of Xinjiang Zhang Chunxian said there are more and more people participating in Islamic State-linked extremist groups. Some criminals went overseas to take part in Islamic holy war, and have been discovered after they returned to China to plan terrorist attacks here.

Ideas lag behind

Wang Xiuyu, senior lecturer at the Beijing Rail police training school, agrees, thinks all policemen should have anti-terrorism duties. "In order to increase anti-terrorism skills, the police have set up skill training for new recruits and SWAT teams. But in reality, the training of police is not adequate."

He explained the March 1 attack on the Kunming Railway Station has become the prime example of why police need better training.

That evening, the first law enforcement the terrorists encountered were security guards. According to media reports, security guards with steel rods and long steel forks for pinning people from a distance tried to approach a band of five terrorists armed with long knives. But the guards were of little use.

The attack ended when SWAT team member Wang Jun (pseudonym) arrived from the Kunming Police Station and used a Type 81 automatic rifle with 30 bullets to shoot and kill five terrorists. He was on the only team in Kunming that had this weapon. It took him a mere 15 seconds.

Before the arrival of the SWAT team, the temporary waiting hall and square of the Kunming Railway Station was bloodstained. The whole event caused 29  deaths and over 130 injuries. There were only five terrorists that night. They had no guns and explosives, only knives.

Moreover, Phoenix Weekly has found that the Kunming Railway Station and Kunming Public Security Bureau had assigned more than 20 policemen to the station that night. Among them, three security guards were carrying handguns, and fired dozens of shots. However, only one shot hit, striking the leg of a terrorist after a bounce from the ground.

If SWAT member Wang hadn't arrived and dispatched with the killers in less than a minute, it is hard to imagine how much worse the tragedy would have been.

"At that time, I had no time to think too much. After hitting these terrorists, I was pondering whether my shooting was right or wrong. But after seeing the corpses, I felt a little at ease in my heart. I believe I have saved many innocent lives," Wang Jun said.

Training on the surface

Compared with Hong Kong, mainland police training just touches the surface, said Wang Xiuyu. "It is not that our police education system is incomplete, or training funding insufficient, but it is because of many man-made factors in actual practice," he explained.

In the mainland, there are more than 300 police training schools and bases, and more than 30 provincial-level police education institutions.

But Wang Xiuyu said, "The training lacks of concrete content." He said textbooks, training time, and even the amount of bullets supplied for training were all woefully lacking.

In Hong Kong, he said, policemen are trained for a set amount of time. Students must complete 64 lessons. It takes about two weeks for firearm training. Every recruit is trained in basic shooting.

"Recruits should fire 740 bullets. The number is unbelievably high for us. Last year, the Ministry of Public Security required every mainland policeman to fire 30 bullets during the training each year. The policemen were so excited about it. Because they used to only have an opportunity to practice with 10 or 15 bullets within several years," Wang Xiuyu said.

Hong Kong recruits are trained one-on-one. Each recruit receives 200 lectures on shooting a gun. In contrast, Wang Xiuyu said he personally teaches a class of 60 recruits how to handle a firearm.

In a famous case in 2006 in Hong Kong, criminal Xu Bugao killed two patrol officers and grabbed their revolvers, then robbed a bank. When Xu met another two policemen, he shot one dead, and hit the other, Zeng Guoheng, in the head with a bullet. When the bullet struck, Zeng had five seconds before losing consciousness. In this five seconds, Zeng drew his gun, shot Xu five times, killing him, and holstered his weapon before collapsing to the ground and dying.

"Such spontaneous and professional training was a shocking example to mainland police experts. It proves the Hong Kong police force has significant training," Wang Xiuyu lamented, noting Hong Kong police give their officers practical tests four times a year. If the officers fail, they will be suspended.

Professional police

Facing a serious terrorist threat, China's police force needs to adapt and become more professional.

Fan says that China's law enforcement system is bureaucratically divided into many unrelated departments that operate without any connection to each other - such as traffic, household registration, and patrols - dragging down the efficiency of the whole system.

This problem is solved by the state police department in the US's California, by issuing a kind of police license called POST. This independently tested qualification indicates that a policeman is trained and qualified to do the entire range of duties called for in the department.

Fan said that Chinese policemen would be required to understand the law, be trained in shooting, hand-to-hand combat and driving, and be qualified in administrative tasks.

"If there was such a standard, you can imagine how many duties a policeman could have, and how efficient a police system could run," he said. "Such systematic organization marks the efficiency of American police."

"A policeman should have learned these things in police training. Once they meet unexpected events, they can do their job by relying on the laws instead of administrative orders," Fan noted.

He concludes that if this kind of system were in place, any policeman could handle a traffic accident, respond to a riot or demonstration and deal with a terror attack.

Newspaper headline: Missing the mark

Posted in: In-Depth

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