Controversial police estimates of turnouts at major protests and marches are scientific, the head of police operations insisted yesterday.
"There are no political considerations behind the figures," director of operations Paul Hung Hak- wai said. "We count actual numbers of how many people pass our counting devices."
There have been persistent criticisms that police tend to underestimate turnouts for the June 4 candlelight vigil, July 1 rally and the series of anti- national education marches.
Estimates differ widely from protest organizers' numbers.
Unlike other academic bodies whose turnout figures are worked out statistically, Hung insisted the force has always provided "actual numbers."
He said demonstration turnouts only matter in police deployment and decisions on security arrangements, and so are used mainly for internal references and not usually made public.
Hung also said it was a fair decision for the police to use a fire extinguisher-like pepper spray against crowds demonstrating during the visit of President Hu Jintao on June 30.
"Have you seen press reports that some tried to break through giant barricades before we used larger pepper spray?" Hung asked.
The larger sprays were used after verbal warnings and warning banners were unfurled, and after protesters were undeterred by smaller pepper sprays, he said. "I assure you the difference between the two types of pepper spray was only in their appearance," he said.
Hung spoke at a press conference reviewing crime figures for the first half of the year, when overall crime was largely stable at about 37,500 cases.