Ending abuse within the ranksA combat police unit consisting of military conscripts is back in the news after six officers abandoned their stations and reported physical and emotional abuse.
In response, National Police Agency Commissioner Cho Hyun-oh declared that he would disband units where such abuses are found to have occurred.
It’s difficult to determine whether Cho’s declaration will be enough to stop human rights violations against conscripts who are in the police force as part of their compulsory military service, or whether a more fundamental overhaul is needed.
The police previously announced a plan to end abusive and violent acts by policemen.
According to the new policy, senior officers in units where abuse has occurred will be charged with management negligence, and a human rights violation report center for conscripted police forces will be established.
However, just 10 days after the plan was unveiled, allegations of abuse were levied against the Gangwon unit.
It’s not the first time for this particular unit.
In 2005, it was criticized when a picture circulated on the Internet showing six naked junior policemen standing in front of giggling superiors.
The unit was under investigation by the National Human Rights Commission, but the latest incident only confirms that such dirty practices cannot be fixed with ad hoc measures.
If the abuses are proven to be true, the police will punish the offenders according to criminal law. In the past, similar cases were concluded by punishing and reprimanding those involved, yet the vicious cycle continues.
Such a one-time punishment will not fundamentally solve the issue.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration had made a plan to gradually reduce the number of conscripted policemen and phase them out completely by 2013.
In the Lee Myung-bak administration, the plan was revised to initially reduce the combat and conscripted policemen forces from 40,000 to 23,000 and then discuss the issue again.
The obstacles to abolishing the combat police system altogether involved the lack of law enforcement personnel and the enormous budget to hire full-time, professional policemen.
In other countries, professional police forces are in charge of riot suppression.
The government must reconsider the combat and conscripted police system completely.