The Korea Herald


Police struggle with launch of new bureau

By Im Eun-byel

Published : July 24, 2022 - 15:27

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National Police Agency in Seoul (Yonhap) National Police Agency in Seoul (Yonhap)

The National Police Agency has been struggling with internal opposition a mere week ahead of the launch of a new “police bureau” under the Ministry of the Interior and Safety.

Hours after a meeting of police chiefs from around the country who were against the launch of the new police bureau, Yoon Hee-keun, the national police chief nominee, ordered superintendent Ryu Sam-yeong to go on stand-by Saturday. The police agency is also looking into inspecting some 50 superintendents who attended the event.

Ulsan Jungbu Police Chief Ryu was the first to suggest holding a meeting of police chiefs across the nation held Saturday.

“This is evidence that the interior minister should not have personnel authority over the police,” Ryu said in response to the measure.

At the meeting, held for about four hours at the Police Human Resources Development Institute in Asan, South Chungcheong Province, police chiefs expressed disapproval of the ministry’s launch of the new bureau. Some 190 superintendents took part in the event, both online and offline.

“Many superintendents were worried about the new rule, which enables the interior minister to supervise chiefs of police stations. This can be a violation of the constitution,” the chiefs said in a statement after the meeting.

“We are open to democratic regulations based on checks and balances -- the main fundamentals of democracy -- but administrational regulation through the launch of the new bureau and chain of command are inappropriate. They are a regression into the past,” the statement read.

Ryu also showed his intent to continue opposing the new change after the meeting.

“We have decided to do what we can do legally (against the launch of the new bureau),” Ryu told the press Saturday. “We could hold more meetings if necessary.”

“It is the first time for the police chiefs to openly express ourselves, knowing there could be negative consequences,” Ryu said. “I hope the people can support us, aware that this is not just a problem of the police, but could lead to the violation of people’s rights.”

The National Police Agency said the police chiefs failed to follow orders to cancel the meeting. Top figures at the agency, including the nominee Yoon, sent emails to superintendents, calling for them to refrain from attending the event as “careful decisions are needed.”

“The meeting was held despite the order for cancellation,” the National Police Agency said in a statement. “We will specify the compliance details of service for officers to prevent similar incidents from happening.”

Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Dae-ki also showed his disapproval against the police chiefs making complaints about the launch of the new bureau as a group.

“Based on my past experiences of working as a public official for 35 years, it was inappropriate behavior,” Kim told the press at the Yongsan presidential office Sunday, referring to Saturday’s meeting.

It is the first time for Kim to speak on a pending issue in front of the press.

“The National Police Agency could have stronger power (than the Prosecution Service or the National Tax Service) with the prosecution losing its authority to investigate,” he said. “The launch of the police bureau is needed for checks and balances.”

Kim, however, drew a line, saying it is not a matter for the president to intervene.

Aware of the opposition from police chiefs and officers, the agency said it will work on helping its members understand the new system.

“We will meet with those at the scene to help people understand the changing system, setting a strict discipline,” it said.

The Interior Ministry’s plan to launch a new police bureau under its wing has been drawing strong criticism from police officers. The ministry said the police must have a watchdog as its authority has been recently strengthened as the prosecution lost its investigative powers.

The bureau, consisting of both police officers and public officials, will supervise the National Police Agency, giving approval on major policies. The bureau will also be briefed ahead of Cabinet meetings. The agency would have to report to the bureau for participating in international agreements and plans that require enactment or revision of the law.

The new bureau will be launched on Aug. 2 after a Cabinet meeting.

By Im Eun-byel (