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[Editorial] Public safety

Police urged to do more to protect innocent citizens facing lethal threats

South Korea has long been recognized as a relatively safe place to live thanks to tight security and the absence of guns in the hands of criminals. But this perception is breaking apart following latest incidents where police failed to protect victims against brutal assailants.

The majority of rank-and-file police officers work hard to protect people day and night, and their dedicated efforts should be duly appreciated. But two tragic cases that took place last week are sending shock waves through Korean society, and raise serious questions about what went wrong with the country’s safety system in general and the police response to violent crimes in particular.

On Nov. 15, a pair of police officers were dispatched to an apartment complex in Incheon, west of Seoul, over a noise complaint filed by a resident. While a male officer was talking with the resident on the first floor, the man living on the fourth floor, who was the subject of the complaint, came down with a knife to the third floor and attacked the resident’s wife and two daughters with a knife.

A female officer who was on the third floor at the time fled downstairs and did not return to the scene with the male officer to rescue them.

The wife is reported as remaining unconscious and the daughters sustained injuries -- suffering that could have been at least minimized if the two officers did their duty.

The female officer, who could have used her baton or Taser, later said she was too frightened and could not remember exactly what happened, except that she was taught to call for emergency help in such situations.

The police officers are now facing an internal investigation and their supervisor, a senior superintendent of the district police station, lost his post over the widely reported failure in public protection.

People call the police when they are under serious threat. Police officers are given the exclusive right to use force against unlawful behavior and violence. But when the police flee crime scenes and fail to confront attackers, citizens have nowhere to go when they face such violence.

While the Incheon case may be attributable to the dereliction of duty by individual officers, another tragic incident points to another fundamental problem with the police.

On Nov. 19, a woman in her 30s was murdered in broad daylight by her longtime stalker, even though she sent two emergency distress signals to the police through a smart watch.

Due to an inaccurate location signal from the smart watch, police officers rushed to the wrong place, while she was attacked by her stalker. She died while being taken to hospital.

Police explained that the current location-tracking system has its limitations, but the device’s inaccuracy is nothing new and better measures should have been in place to protect those under threat.

The inaction is all the more regrettable at a time when dating violence has increasingly turned deadly. The data from the police show that there were 81,056 reports of dating violence in the past five years. The number of those killed reached 227 during the period, around 45 deaths per year.

Experts say that the country should beef up the police response system to stalkers while taking more proactive steps to protect victims. A new set of legal measures that ensure more accurate tracking of stalkers and better protection of victims are in order.

As long as the perception about police protection is fraught with mistrust, innocent victims will continue to lose hope in the face of unruly and ruthless stalkers.

Kim Chang-yong, commissioner-general of the National Police Agency, apologized Sunday about the passive and insufficient responses of the police, and held a meeting Monday with high-ranking officials where they decided to improve the field response system and address the broader problems exposed through the brutal incidents.

During the high-level meeting, Kim said, “The police have failed to protect citizens in danger.” His statement lays bare the troubling state of public safety.

By Korea Herald (
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