Rooting out favoritism

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Rooting out favoritism

One after another, leaders of Korea’s police force have come forward with statements to reassure the public that they will not respond to requests for favoritism in personnel management.

Cho Hyun-oh, chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, said two days ago, “The chief superintendent and superintendent promotion candidates will all be posted on the Internet.”

He added that the number of promotion candidates will fall from five times to two to three times the number of positions.

Kang Hee-rak, commissioner of the National Police Agency, also warned, “There will be disadvantages for those who try to gain special favor.”

These moves are promising. There has been a lot of talk about police personnel management for a long time.

Yet the fundamental reason behind this problem is the distorted human resources structure. Whereas 82.5 percent of the 97,732 police officers nationwide are of sergeant rank or under, 17 percent are mid-level executives, such as heads of precinct stations, known as chief inspectors or inspectors. Only 0.5 percent are senior superintendents or above. The bottom of the pyramid is wide, but the top is as narrow and sharp as an ice pick. The proportion of mid-level executives is 38.6 percent in Japan, and 27.8 percent in Germany. Being promoted to superintendent from chief inspector is as difficult as threading a needle. While 7,011 officers were promoted to chief inspector last year, just 5 percent of that, or 355, were promoted to the superintendent level.

Simply reducing the number of candidates for promotion and posting them on the Internet will not solve the fundamental problem. The doorway remains narrow even when the number of people trying to get through falls to two to three times the number of positions. The current personnel management rules have three steps: strengthen work performance, reduce the candidate pools to two to three times the number of positions through seven-item evaluations and finally confirmation. Those in charge of personnel need to follow the rules and handle the matter with decency. Just as Commissioner Kang said, those who seek personal favor should fail even if they are otherwise in line for a promotion, to set an example.

The fact that strong disapproval against personnel favoritism had be announced, however, seems to vindicate outside civic groups at the same time. The police force came in last in transparency evaluations of national institutions last year because of personnel management problems. The issue is not a matter of executing power, but a responsibility.
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