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[Editorial] Police disobedience

Police station chiefs express opposition to Ministry bureau that will control police

Some police officers are digging their heels in over the creation of a police bureau in the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Last Saturday, 189 of 710 police station chiefs and officers of the same rank held a meeting to express opposition to the setup of the bureau.

Yoon Hee-keun, acting chief of the Korean National Police Agency nominated by President Yoon Suk-yeol to head the agency, ordered them to stop the meeting and disperse but they did not comply.

Yoon placed Ryu Sam-young, chief of Ulsan Jungbu Police Station, on standby for his leading role in organizing the meeting. The police agency is said to have launched inspections of other participants.

Then some front-line police officers began to react against the disciplinary action. Police officers two or three ranks below police station chiefs planned to hold their own meeting on July 30, but a police officer who first proposed the meeting announced through an internal communication network Tuesday that the meeting will be expanded to allow an attendance of anyone of the nation’s 140,000 police officers.

Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min criticized the meeting of police station chiefs. He likened it to a coup attempt by an illegal private organization within the military.

Their collective action is a clear violation of the duty to obey orders stipulated by the law on national government officers. If the agency does not respond strictly to their collective disobedience, it may lose organizational discipline.

Police officers opposing the bureau cite Paragraph 1 of Article 34 of the Government Organization Law that lists Interior and Safety Minister’s jobs. The paragraph has no mention of “policing.” But Paragraph 5 of the same article specifies that the National Police Agency is placed under the control of Interior and Safety Minister in order to administer police work.

The decision to create a police bureau in the ministry was inevitable because the Yoon administration abolished the post of senior presidential secretary for civil affairs who controlled police in past administrations.

They argue that control through the bureau will undermine the independence of police organization and the neutrality of police investigations from politics. In the days when the police were controlled by the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, no officer made such an argument. All the while, they enforced the law as people in power wanted. Now they oppose being controlled through the ministry, citing independence and neutrality as if the ministry’s control will violate the principles.

Prosecutors are inspected by the Ministry of Justice. Police officers cannot be an exception. From a legal point of view, the ministry’s control is reasonable.

They worry about the neutrality of investigations. But it is doubtful whether their investigations were neutral in the previous administration. Police dawdled after finding an evidence that a close associate of the president intervened in an organized online opinion rigging scandal.

They investigated an opposing party candidate for Ulsan mayor under instructions from the office of senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, which successfully pushed to get an old friend of the president elected.

They induced a taxi driver into writing a false statement about a passenger who attacked him inside his taxi, after they knew the passenger was a figure close to people in power.

Prosecutors were stripped of their right to command police investigations as the majority Democratic Party of Korea passed related bills despite much concern. Police will take over the authority to conduct anti-communist investigations from the National Intelligence Service early in 2024. Control of a powerful police is definitely needed.

The ministry and the KNPA confront some police station chiefs and frontline officers over the bureau issue. People cannot but worry about possible slackness in policing. Considering the special nature of a police organization, police officers must refrain from collective actions. Minister Lee said that misunderstanding of the bureau led to the unprecedented meeting of police station chiefs. He ought to make efforts to resolve misunderstanding through communication.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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