Decentralization of police agency takes shape

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Decentralization of police agency takes shape

Starting next year, the National Police Agency will gradually stop handling cases such as traffic accidents and sex crimes in Seoul, Sejong and Jeju Island, and they will be given to newly established “autonomous police systems” controlled by local governments.

A key campaign pledge of President Moon Jae-in was to decant power away from the National Police Agency, accused of abuse countless times in the past, and give it to local authorities.

Local police agencies and precincts controlled by the National Police Agency will focus on bigger cases involving things like intelligence and foreign affairs.

A presidential committee that has been drafting a blueprint for police reform since April rolled out a preliminary version on Tuesday at the Government Seoul Complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul.

According to the committee, the autonomous police system will have a test-run next year in Seoul, Sejong, Jeju Island and two other places that haven’t been decided yet, getting some of the cases that local police agencies and precincts have handled. The two extra slots will go to one metropolitan city and one province through a public bid.

The system will be launched in Seoul, Sejong and Jeju Island next year and be extended nationally through 2022. By then, some 43,000 officers of the current 117,617 police force, some 36 percent, will be working under the autonomous police system.

The committee said the new autonomous police system is expected to help the police achieve “democratic” reforms and “secure political neutrality.”

The autonomous police system, according to Tuesday’s draft plan, will be decentralized to the provincial and municipal levels. Each unit will be led by a group tentatively called the municipal or provincial police committee, which falls under the control of a municipal or provincial government head. Five people will be on the committee, including two tapped by the municipal or provincial assembly, one by the head of the municipal or provincial government office, one by a local court and one by the National Police Committee.

An autonomous police headquarters will take on a similar role to that of the current metropolitan or provincial police agency under the new autonomous police system, while autonomous police squads will be the new moniker for police precincts. Police stations and patrol divisions will fall under the supervision of the autonomous police squads. The committee will directly control and supervise autonomous police headquarters and squads to prevent the municipal or provincial government head from interfering in their work.

The municipal and provincial police committee will recommend two candidates for every head position at an autonomous police headquarters and the autonomous police squads, after which the head of the city or provincial government office will have the final pick.

The National Police Agency will ask which current officers want to move to the autonomous police system. The new system will be paid for by the national government, while infrastructure and equipment will be shared with the National Police Agency.

The presidential committee said Tuesday they will finish reviewing the plan by the end of this month and decide on a final version.

Police officers had mixed reactions to the autonomous police system.

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