Becoming a police officer was almost a dream come true for Stefan Chow. When he was a young scout, he realised there was something alluring about a police career. "It's the thought of being able to serve the community that makes the job so special," he says.
Obviously, there is more to it than that. So, in 1996, after obtaining a master's degree in business administration from the UK, Mr Chow signed on with the Hong Kong Police Force. "The diversity of the job is second to none," he adds.
Currently a chief inspector in charge of police recruitment, Mr Chow believes: "This is a platform that will help you develop into an all-rounder."
At the forefront
Over the past 12 years, Mr Chow has had his fair share of excitement and challenge.
After passing out, he followed a typical route and became a patrol sub-unit (PSU) commander of the waterfront division in Central, responsible for the daily deployment of around 20 staff.
Over that period, he had ample opportunity to witness the transformation of Hong Kong's political scene, dealing with one demonstration after another at the fringe of the legislative council. "In any given situation, maintaining uninterrupted communication with my colleagues was key to effective crowd control," he says.
But then he knew he had not seen it all. Later on, he opted for a position at the PTU (police tactical unit), an alternative to the "mainstream" crime unit. Little did he know he was going to play a part in the making of Hong Kong's constitutional history.
"The protest rally against the article 23 of the Basic Law on 1 July 2003 gathered more than 500,000 Hong Kong residents," he recalls. "I was posted right in the middle of Victoria Park. Our main tasks, among others, were to ensure the rally proceeded in a coordinated manner and to safeguard the participants against any potential danger. When I got home later that evening, a sense of achievement emerged."
The ability to stay calm and make the right decisions in taxing situations is not only a result of stringent police training, but also a display of courage and astuteness. "During my days in the emergency unit, I also dealt with murder cases," Mr Chow explains. "A competent police officer must respond swiftly to the circumstances while taking into account the safety of all parties involved including himself and members of his team."
"There are many roles to play within the organisation"
To hone skills, knowledge and discipline, all recruit inspectors are required to go through a 36-week training and pass a "Standard One Professional Examination".
In Mr Chow's experience, the average school-leaver will find the first week of training hard-hitting. "Being away from home plus intensive physical training and classroom sessions can mean sleep deprivation to many new recruits," he notes.
In most cases, young recruits are quick to demonstrate a high level of adaptability, and develop self-confidence, physical strength and mental stamina, Mr Chow observes. "From facing a new environment to dealing with officers and fellow cadets, and managing a whole stack of training material, or even ironing your own uniform, you get to know yourself better every day. Particularly, you learn to take hardship in your stride," he adds.
Every new inspector embarks on a structured career path that comprises 12 months of service at the PSU, a nine-week "Standard Criminal Investigation Course" and a further 12 months as part of a divisional investigation or district investigation team. Then the options are wide open.
Mr Chow emphasises that consistent and outstanding job performance essentially leads to better prospects and possibilities. "You must always seek to exceed expectations and make a contribution to the force and the community," he remarks.
Following his aspirations and to expand his horizons, Mr Chow has achieved extraordinary career growth both vertically and horizontally, having been a member of a task force sub-unit and later a special duty squad that carries out investigations on drug trafficking, illegal gambling and prostitution. "Back then, rave parties were all the rage, so you can imagine the hours," he says. "We were usually home after breakfast."
At the moment, he is leading a team at the police's recruitment division, enjoying a comparatively stable work schedule. "I tend to spend more evenings with my family and friends nowadays," he says.
In spite of this, Mr Chow is keen to maintain an exercise regime and he regularly practises Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art that specialises in close-range combat, with a colleague. "The force promotes a healthy life balance which is fundamental to a person's overall well-being," he says. Aside from this, he also needs to keep in top form for any possible movements, perhaps back on the frontline. "There are many roles to play within the organisation and I'm looking forward to my next move," Mr Chow concludes.