After cops go AWOL, abusive unit disbanded

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After cops go AWOL, abusive unit disbanded

A police unit will be disbanded after six officers abandoned their station and duties over the weekend and sent an e-mail to superiors reporting physical and emotional abuse in the force.

In the e-mail, the policemen said they were continuously beaten by senior officers since they were dispatched to Unit 307 of the Gangwon Provincial Police Agency last December.

Cho Hyun-oh, National Police Agency commissioner, told reporters Monday that he would “break up all units where violent or abusive acts occurred among policemen.”

All six policemen were conscripted, meaning the police work was part of their compulsory military service.

“I will root out all customs and cultures that turn a blind eye to abuse and violence in the service by punishing senior military officials or managers who try to hide assaults in their units,” Cho said.

The six policemen fled their unit at 4:45 a.m. Sunday and went to an Internet cafe to report the abuse to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency via e-mail.

The policemen said senior officers forced them to memorize all the names of their seniors and a military song within a few minutes; to sit on police buses without their backs touching the seat-back; and to not look in the mirror when washing their faces. If they failed to keep any of these rules, the senior officers brutally punched them with their fists, they said.

They returned to the unit at 3:14 p.m. Monday and were taken to the National Police Agency in Seoul for their safety.

The policemen said they couldn’t report the abuse earlier because their seniors threatened them, saying the unit would be broken up if abusive acts were disclosed to the public.

Criticism of Unit 307 first arose in June 2005 when a picture circulated on the Internet showing six naked junior policemen standing in front of giggling superiors. It was dubbed “A naked promotion ceremony,” and three months after it went public, three of the six junior policemen ran away from Unit 307.

Abuse in Korea’s services has been a serious issue. But assaults are still going on nationwide, people say.

“Officially, we have a rule in the station that we accept a confidential report from junior policemen about their difficulties in service once a month,” said a policeman in Daegu. “The juniors who believed the report would be kept confidential, and wrote honestly about their difficulties, were harshly beaten by seniors afterward.”

“The reason why violence among conscripted policemen continues is that they are sent to suppress riots almost every day,” said Sim Hyeon-gyu, 26, who was in the police in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi.

Experts say that the government should reconsider the use of conscripted policemen in riot control. “The emotional effect of conscripted policemen being sent to riots almost every day would be quite different from that of ordinary military soldiers,” Lee Yun-ho, a Dongguk University professor, said. “It’s time to review the system of conscripted policemen.”

“The system of conscripted police was created in the 1970s when there were too many rallies and professional police couldn’t handle all of them,” Hwang Ui-gab, professor at Kyonggi University, said. “Now, in democratic Korea, it is better for professional policemen to deal with rallies, not conscripted policemen.”

By Kim Hee-jin, Song Ji-hye [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


Related Korean Article [중앙일보]

조현오 경찰청장 “구타 부대 해체”"

조현오(사진) 경찰청장은 이날 “전·의경 사이에 구타나 가혹 행위가 구조적이고 고질적으로 이어져 온 부대는 아예 해체하겠다”고 밝혔다.

조 청장은 이날 기자간담회에서 이번 사건을 언급한 뒤 “구타나 가혹행위 발생 사실을 숨기는 지휘관이나 관리요원에 대해선 가혹할 정도로 엄정하게 대처해 가혹행위를 당연시하는 문화나 관행을 뿌리 뽑겠다”고 말했다.

경찰은 307전경대를 전격적으로 해체하고, 100명에 달하는 부대원은 전국의 다른 부대에 나눠 보낼 방침이다. 지난해에도 구타나 가혹행위가 적발돼 중대 2곳과 소대 3곳이 해체된 적이 있다. 당시 부대원은 해당 지방청의 다른 부대에서 근무하게 했지만, 이번처럼 다른 지방청으로 나눠 보내는 것은 처음이다. 조 청장은 전·의경 사이에 구타나 가혹행위가 근절되지 않는 원인을 군(軍)에 비해 병사 관리에 관심이 없기 때문이라고 분석했다. 그는 이어 지휘관이나 관리요원에게 감독 책임이 발견되면 가혹행위자와 함께 공범으로 형사입건하고, 행위 정도가 중하면 징계까지 할 방침이라고 밝혔다.

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