More added to police reform plan

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More added to police reform plan

A new national investigation headquarters aimed at protecting the integrity of police probes from the upper chain of command as part of broader police reform was proposed in an agreement reached between the ruling party, the Blue House and relevant ministries on Monday.

Top officials of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), the Blue House and ministries attended the trilateral meeting in the morning at the National Assembly and discussed a plan to overhaul the police. They checked the progress of the reform roadmap, which was announced in January this year, and discussed follow-up measures.

The DP’s floor leader, Rep. Lee In-young, and chief policymaker, Rep. Cho Jeong-sik, attended the meeting with two other lawmakers from the committees that handle police reform issues. Interior and Security Minister Chin Young, National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gab-ryong and Kim Soon-eun, head of the Presidential Committee on Autonomy and Decentralization, attended as government representatives. From the Blue House, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk, Senior Presidential Secretary for Political Affairs Kang Ki-jung and Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Kim Young-bae attended the meeting.

In his opening remarks, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho said it is important to swiftly push forward police reform, although lawmakers did not choose to fast-track it. The ruling party and three opposition parties recently fast-tracked a package of bills to redistribute investigative power between the prosecution and the police and create a new agency to investigate public servants, but police reform measures - such as introducing a regional autonomous police system and overhauling the police intelligence bureau - were excluded.

Following the meeting, Rep. Cho briefed the media about the discussion. The three sides discussed plans to decentralize police authority by introducing an autonomous police system. Plans to prevent the police intelligence bureau from intervening in politics and conducting illegal surveillance operations were also discussed. They also agreed to reduce the influence of Korea National Police University graduates over the police, as they traditionally monopolize top posts. To this end, the number of freshmen at the university will be reduced from 100 a year to 50, and transfers from other schools will be allowed.

“We decide to swiftly pass the bills concerning police reform that are currently pending at the National Assembly in order to prevent police reform efforts from regressing to the past,” Rep. Cho said. “In order to resolve concerns that the reform measures will actually become hypertrophied and to offer better services to the people, we agreed to work harder to maximize the effects of police reform.”

According to Rep. Cho, the three sides agreed to create a new state investigation headquarters to oversee police probes nationwide. The head of the new office, who will be selected from outside the police organization, will have the authority to lead and supervise a probe. Top police officers, such as the commissioner general of the National Police Agency and heads of regional police agencies and local police precincts, will be barred from controlling the probes.

The government, Blue House and the ruling party also agreed to put in effort to pass bills on introducing an autonomous police system as scheduled. A trial operation committee will be established this month and evaluation criteria will be finalized by June. After an application process and evaluation, a region will be selected for a pilot program.

Earlier this year, the government, the Blue House and the DP jointly announced a grand plan aimed at overhauling powerful law enforcement authorities by redistributing investigative power. The autonomous police system was a part of the plan.

As of now, the police commissioner - the head of the National Police Agency - oversees all police forces around the country. In the proposed system, the autonomous regional police will be established under local governments and will split investigative powers with the national police. The regional autonomous police will focus on maintaining public order and traffic violations, while the National Police Agency will handle larger cases and administration.

The National Human Rights Commission’s control over the police will also be strengthened, while the National Police Commission, an oversight body of the National Police Agency, will be given more supervisory powers over the police intelligence bureau, as well as major police policies. In order to prevent the intelligence bureau from intervening in politics and conducting illegal surveillance activities, a code of conduct will be created to clearly define the scope of its intelligence-gathering activities. The three sides also agreed to revise relevant laws so that political activities by the police intelligence bureau will be criminally punished.

During the meeting, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho said the Moon administration will not follow the predecessors’ practices of using police intelligence for political operations, adding that a former police head was recently arrested for such alleged abuse of power. “In order to prevent illegal activities by the intelligence police, we need to revise the law,” he said. “The government will push forward the police reform tasks and cooperate with the National Assembly.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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