The head of a Hong Kong police officers’ union has blasted anti-extradition protesters, describing them as out-of-control “beasts,” following a melee inside a Sha Tin mall on Sunday that left 28 people and 13 officers injured.

Lam Chi Wai, chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, a major union representing officers ranked below inspector, told Radio Television Hong Kong that there was deep animosity towards police and many officers had grievances about their positions in the controversy.

He said that the police force had been caught in the middle between the government and protesters and stressed that the extradition bill conflict is a political issue that should be solved by political means.

Lam said in another interview with local broadcaster TVB that protesters targeted police officers in recent protests and “normalized” their attacks.

“There is strong grievance among police officers,”  Lam said, adding that the police had made great efforts to maintain law and order and uphold the rule of law to protect the general public, but ended being targeted by protesters.

Lam’s comments came after clashes between police and anti-extradition bill protesters inside a shopping mall in Sha Tin on Sunday, which led to 28 people and 13 officers being injured. He said that some protesters have acted like “beasts” who were out of control in recent  confrontations.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung have recently thanked police and expressed support for them in helping to maintain order.

Read: 28 injured as police and protesters clash inside Sha Tin mall

Police have been criticized for abusing protesters, even journalists and lawmakers, by using excessive force during clearance operations.

The Junior Police Officers’ Association issued a statement over the weekend, urging the police chief and senior police management to protect frontline officers’ safety and their mental health.

The association urged commanders to only deploy officers if they can ensure their tactics and equipment are safe enough to execute the operation.

Lam said he would not criticize the tactics used during the two clearance operations in Sheung Shui and Sha Tin shopping malls over the weekend – where a small team of officers was seen being  assaulted by protesters – but the concern showed the growing worries among frontline officers.

A letter posted on LIHKG, a local Reddit-like message board – written by an anonymous current police officer – urged Carrie Lam and the police chief to address the safety issues for the frontline officers.

A letter from a current police officer posted on LIHKG message board
Photo: Screen-grab from LIHKG

The officers said the law enforcement teams have low morale as they had been humiliated by the general public since the June 12 clash with the protesters outside the Legislative Council but he could still tolerate when people called them dogs and spat at them.

However, he questioned the police tactics used in Sha Tin on Sunday because protesters were targeting them.

He asked the city chief and the police chief not to use police officers as a means to solve the political issue and worried that someone on either side could lose control someday, resulting in a death.

Meanwhile, a woman identified as Mrs Lee, said to be a police family member, slammed the government as cruel on a phone-in program on an online radio platform D100.

After watching the tactics the police used over the weekend, she said the clashes broke out when a small team of officers, with little protective gear, was deployed to clear the crowd. Vastly outnumbered, the police officers were attacked by protesters.

Apple Daily on Tuesday published a front-page story quoting unnamed government sources saying that the government is studying the feasibility of imposing martial law, including the issuance of a martial law order under the Public Order Ordinance 17E “Power of Chief Executive in Council to prohibit public gatherings.”

The government will study the prohibition of public gatherings in certain districts, and prohibit the general public joining from other districts, the report said.