[Viewpoint]Out of humiliation, start renewalThe alleged revenge assault by the chairman of Hanwha Group, Kim Seung-youn, against people he thought had attacked his son taught the police plenty of lessons.
It also gives us the chance to contemplate a number of things: the people’s mistrust about the way the judicial system deals with criminals and about how the police investigates them; the failed lobbying attempts of Hanwha Group executives; possible corruption involving investigators; the loss of the prestige of public authorities due to outside pressure; the internal distrust and divisions among the police; the ethical standards of retired public servants; inconsistencies in the tenure of office of public servants; limits in the self-governance of the police; and the qualifications required for a person to head the National Police Agency.
Lee Taek-soo, commissioner general of the National Police Agency, is largely responsible for two different aspects of the case.
First, the investigation of a simple case of violence became seriously distorted due to outside interventions. This caused the people to distrust the ability of the police force to solve such a simple case.
As the head of the police organization, Lee is responsible for the failures in communication and proper reporting procedures involving the important case. The failures created an unwarranted delay in the investigation process and caused the agency’s prestige to crash.
Another thing for which Lee is responsible is his failure to investigate people, both inside and outside of the organization, who tried to delay or conceal the alleged crimes.
The rank-and-file police officers have reacted negatively, saying they don’t trust Lee because he concluded the investigation in a hurry, taking heavy disciplinary measures against a handful of high-ranking police officers and then entrusting the rest of the case to prosecutors.
The results of police investigations are customarily forwarded to the prosecution. Therefore, the prosecutors will certainly launch a thorough reinvestigation of the police, even if there is no request from them to do so.
Despite the existence of such a practice, Lee gave the case over to prosecutors, saying he was following the Blue House’s suggestion to send the case to prosecutors. He pinned the decision on a higher authority.
Consequently, Lee is now criticized internally as a boss who “sold his subordinates to the prosecutors” and as someone who suffers from internal strife. He has dampened the aspirations of 150,000 police officers who have been fighting with prosecutors to get more investigative authority. Because of this, the morale of most police officers has been seriously damaged and many of them even feel a sense of shame.
The damage to the morale of police can affect the people.
There is already a crisis over the leadership of the police department. In the 62-year history of the agency, Lee has become the first police commissioner general who has ever been pressured to step down by his own subordinates.
Police officers are even talking about such things as “the police humiliation day” or “the revolt of the police.” The commissioner general himself and the president, who holds the right to appoint the head of the police, must be feeling a responsibility for the present situation.
Commissioner General Lee Taek-soon seems to go the extra mile when the president reaffirms his confidence in him. He also put the members of the police department on alert by taking strict disciplinary measures. Lee has already expressed a desire to completely restructure the police agency. The people, however, have gotten tired of hearing exaggerated rhetoric from him such as “I’m doing everything in my power,” “Let’s cut off the ailing parts” or “Let’s take special measures.”
Instead of taking action just to get positive publicity, Lee should focus on restoring the prestige of the police organization and boosting its members’ morale. Whenever an accident occurs, the police officers on the spot have been reprimanded. This practice should be changed. Those in a superior position should establish practical and sustainable long-term plans, such as providing a system that guarantees that junior officers can do their job in a fair manner.
In the past, Lee has been internally criticized for taking a passive attitude about getting the police the independent investigative authority that they desire.
As the head of the police department, he should behave in a way that gives the people confidence. The right of the police to independently investigate incidents will not only benefit the people, but also modernize the criminal judicial system. He also must provide detailed criteria for investigations to ensure that they are not tainted by outside pressure.
Taking those actions would help the police department be reborn as an investigative agency that has the public’s confidence and love.
I sincerely hope the police will take the incident, the most humiliating case in its history, as a chance to renew itself as a guardian of the people.
*The writer is a professor of police administration at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lim Jun-tae