Public distrust of police mounts due to poor response to crimes - Korea Times
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Public distrust of police mounts due to poor response to crimes

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A 35-year-old man is taken out of the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, Monday, after the court reviews whether to issue an arrest warrant for him for allegedly stalking and stabbing his former girlfriend to death. Yonhap
A 35-year-old man is taken out of the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul, Monday, after the court reviews whether to issue an arrest warrant for him for allegedly stalking and stabbing his former girlfriend to death. Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

Police are facing mounting criticism over inappropriate responses to two recent violent crimes which led to serious injury and death.

Critics say police officers are unable to protect people's lives and safety under the current system and are calling for an overhaul of the crime response manual.

In one of the cases, a 35-year-old man surnamed Kim allegedly stabbed his former girlfriend to death at her residence in central Seoul at around 11:30 a.m., Friday.

The victim had been under police protection according to the law on punishment for stalking after the man threatened to kill her earlier this month.

She sent an emergency call signal to officers twice with a smartwatch provided by the police, but they arrived at a place 500 meters away from her home following the first signal because of a technical error in the location-tracking system. When they arrived at the scene after the second signal, Kim had fled, and the victim was moved to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Kim was detained the next day.

According to the police, the victim complained to police more than five times last year about being stalked by Kim. Each time the police merely warned the man or ordered him to leave.

In another incident in Incheon, Nov. 15, a woman was stabbed by a neighbor during a dispute over noise. A female police officer was present when the stabbing took place, but she ran to the first floor "to request for assistance" and the woman's daughter was also injured by the neighbor. A male officer was on the first floor talking to the woman's husband at the time.

According to current police guidelines on exercising force, officers are authorized to use police batons and tasers against assailants who pose a threat to police or citizens at the scene. The guidelines were not followed.

"Police should never leave the scene at the moment of a crime; there is no possible justification for what had happened in the incident in Incheon. Two years ago, the manual was created to prevent this from happening following a previous incident, but a lack of training, experience, and most importantly, a work ethic by the officers resulted in this," Oh Yoon-sung, a professor of Criminal Justice at Soonchunhyang University, told The Korea Times.

President Moon Jae-in also rebuked the police, saying the highest priority for law enforcement officers is to protect citizens' lives and safety, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

"This is not about whether it was a male or female officer, but about the basic attitude of officers at the scene," presidential spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said in a media briefing.

"The President ordered the strengthening of relevant training and an improvement of systems to prevent a recurrence of such incidents."

National Police Agency Commissioner General Kim Chang-yong attends a National Assembly session in Seoul in this Oct. 5 photo. Korea Times photo by Park Joo-young
National Police Agency Commissioner General Kim Chang-yong attends a National Assembly session in Seoul in this Oct. 5 photo. Korea Times photo by Park Joo-young

In response, the police held an online meeting of regional chiefs, presided over by National Police Agency (NPA) Commissioner General Kim Chang-yong. A total of 350 people participated in the meeting, including heads of local police stations nationwide and ranking officials at the NPA.

They reviewed problems found in the latest cases and discussed how to improve the system so that officers can develop capabilities to deal with crimes at the scene.

"We agreed that, to protect the people in emergencies, officers at the scene of crimes need to make precise and quick decisions and use force if necessary," an NPA official said.

They decided to establish a taskforce to come up with comprehensive measures, such as improving training for new officers, upgrading police equipment and strengthening training in their use, and revising manuals covering on-the-spot responses.

Regarding the poor function of smartwatches, the police said they will upgrade the location-tracking system and seek measures to effectively separate stalkers from victims.

Experts point out that fundamental reform in police recruitment and education must take place to nurture a work ethic and a sense of empathy in future officers.

"Under the current system where police officers are recruited through test scores, professional motivation and work ethic are difficult to evaluate and some people may pursue a police career for stability," Lee Yoon-ho, a professor of Police Administration at Korea Cyber University told The Korea Times.

"The police academy must reform its curriculum to nurture social skills and a sense of empathy in future officers, which are crucial but underrated skills needed in the field. Without a fundamental change in police recruitment and education, this could happen again at any time," Oh said.


Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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