Cops and robbers is a favourite childhood game, while the proliferation of heroic police characters on television and on the big screen also lead many young people to aspire to joining the police force. However, despite the glamorous media image police work can be demanding, while the necessary discipline is not for everyone.
Undaunted, senior inspector Chow Cheung-yau enrolled with the Hong Kong Police Force in 1988 and hasn't looked back. The force has not only given him a fulfilling and challenging career, but the opportunity to contribute to society and tackle crime - a mission that he recommends to potential new recruits.
"Ever since I was at school, my ambition was to join the police force," he recalls.
Signing up as a constable, Mr Chow gradually worked his way up to sergeant and inspector - passing written examinations and interview boards along the way - before reaching his current rank of senior inspector.
Joining the police force is not a simple proposition, but neither is it out of grasp for most locals.
"Once you've satisfied the general entry requirements and a half-day physical test, candidates also have to go through an in-depth interview to ensure we get the right personalities for the job," says Mr Chow. "Once I made it past the interview stage I went through a 27-week constable basic training programme, which includes briefings on police procedures, laws, foot drills, physical training, weapon handling and first aid. After that was a final examination before graduation from the Police Training School."
Inspectors go through 36 weeks of basic training and must pass the Standard One Professional Examination before graduation.
Once admitted to the force, officers must also undergo annual fitness tests to avoid ending up like their American cousins, but Mr Chow reassures police hopefuls that the standards are not unfeasible.
"We're not looking for iron men," he notes with a wry smirk. "But the force has to ensure that we all keep the minimum standards."
The sheer diversity and scope of the police force's responsibilities allow recruits to gain exposure and experience in a wider range of activities than perhaps any other career.
"One of the most satisfying aspects of the job for me has been the opportunity to work with many different branches and types of case with the force," says Mr Chow. "Apart from daily patrol work, I've also spent a lot of time with the Commercial Crime Bureau investigating foreign exchange fraud cases. Because I was unfamiliar with much of the jargon or workings of business and finance, my major challenge was to immerse myself in these areas and apply my police training to the cases at hand."
As for realising his ambitions, Mr Chow prefers to think in terms of achievements rather than rewards. He points out that the civil service, and particularly a frontline organisation such as the police force, is only for those committed to serving the community. Candidates looking for a steady government job with good pay and benefits need not apply.
"When I first joined the force as a constable my ambition was to rise to inspector rank," he says. "Once that was achieved I wanted to become a senior inspector. Now I'm aiming to become a superintendent, but to be honest you can't look too far ahead in this line of work. In the meantime I'd like the opportunity to work on serious crimes with the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau."
Although selflessness is an important trait in the police force, Mr Chow stresses that this is not a dangerous line of work.
"The chances of injury in the line of duty are negligible; I've certainly never been hurt," he says. "The training you receive, plus the organisation and protection the force gives officers, really helps to minimise the risks."
Meanwhile, Mr Chow has noticed marked changes in the police force's operation over his 14-year career as officers adapt to new challenges.
"These days the police force is not just there to enforce law and order, but is also a service to the community," he says. "As a result, the force has greatly improved its public relations and instituted better service attitudes and response times. The poor economic situation over the past couple of years has added pressure on officers, but by making Hong Kong a better living environment we can also do our bit to lift the territory out of recession."