Time to reform the policePresident Moon Jae-in stressed the need for legislations to reform the police now that its power has become stronger by sharing some of the investigative authority with the prosecution. The reforms on the prosecution and police should be a package, he said. There are several bills pending at the legislature, which propose to separate the administrative division and the investigation division in the police, establish a national investigation agency and employ the autonomous police system outside Seoul.
There has been less attention on police reforms due to political engrossment with the establishment of a new law enforcement body aimed at investigating corruption of high-level government officials, including prosecutors and judges, and adjustment to prosecutorial powers. The police reform bill was actually excluded from the fast-tracking amidst a political brawl over prosecutorial reforms. But reforming law enforcement agencies is of no use if police authority is not rebalanced. In the publics’ eyes, the mighty power of law enforcement would only shift from the prosecution to the police.
The keystone of the prosecutorial reforms is to allow the police to start — and finish — investigations of criminal cases. Prosecutors come under greater restriction in embarking on criminal investigations, while the role for the police has become bigger. The Justice Ministry is proposing to scale down investigational bureaus in the prosecution.
But the laws are just ideals. They do not address the collusive and unreliable police practices and customs. Kim Woong, a senior prosecutor, suspects some collusion between the governing power and the police to allow the latter to investigate campaign fraud by opposition parties in the upcoming April 15 general elections.
The police is under direct influence of the executive branch. The police chief can wield influence over investigators. Laws have been amended to empower the police without preparing suitable mechanisms to prevent the police abusing its power.
The police has been implicated in the allegations that the Blue House meddled in the Ulsan mayoral election to help a close friend of President Moon get elected. An investigation is under progress on the alleged wrongdoings following an order from the Blue House.
It is scary to imagine the consequences if the police comes under political influence after it gains full investigation authority. Our police have long been criticized for incompetence and human rights abuses. The government must pay equal attention to reforming the police.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 20, Page 30