BEIJING (Reuters) - China has introduced reforms promising greater oversight over a controversial system of security officials that has often sparked public acrimony over reports of abusive practices, state media reported.
The reforms, announced in media late on Wednesday (Dec 30), call for strengthening the role of public opinion in oversight of the officials.
The security officials work with police to enforce minor city rules and regulations, but they are often derided as thuggish. Rights groups have long said they are poorly trained and supervised.
In an interview about the reforms on Thursday, Mr Chen Zhenggao, minister of housing and urban-rural development, told the official Xinhua news agency that greater provincial and national oversight of the security officials, known as "chengguan", was needed.
"Law enforcement is not standardised, and the problems of selective enforcement and violent enforcement leading to a strong reaction from the people have occurred," he said.
The system lacked supervision from national and provincial-level authorities, Mr Chen added, and poorly defined responsibilities also enabled "passing the buck" between the officials and law enforcement agencies.
Mr Chen also acknowledged that some city enforcement authorities were of "low quality", adding that there is confusion about identities of the officials.
He said urban laws and regulations were also inadequate, and lacked specificity. The reforms would heighten requirements for the security officials by the end of 2017, and work to improve standardisation of their enforcement of local rules.
The reforms also promised to allow greater transparency into the security force's actions.
Abuse of street vendors and roadside food-stall operators by the officials has often sparked public anger.
In 2013, a watermelon seller was killed in a fight with such officials, drawing widespread condemnation from the public.
The case was one of many reported incidents in which the officials have beaten vendors, confiscated their goods or detained them.