Fatal dereliction of dutyA 16-month-old girl was declared dead at an emergency room in October. An autopsy report showed severely damaged organs and a stomach full of blood. Her bones were fractured. Her entire body was bruised. She weighed 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds), far below the average 10.5 kilograms for her age. The doctor reported child abuse to the police after declaring death from internal bleeding due to external pressure. Police found she had been regularly beaten by her adopted parents.
An SBS investigative program exposed the tragic death of the fragile child. Public outrage was triggered over the brutality by her adopted parents. The police are also accountable for her death. Child abuse was reported three times, but police closed the cases every time. If the police did their duty and investigated the matter further, the child could have lived. With or without legal liability, the police cannot be excused.
In May, a day care center reported suspicions of the child abuse. But police did not pursue the case after listening to excuses from the parents. A month later, a neighbor reported to the police upon finding the girl abandoned for a long time in a car. Police again closed the case. A pediatrician also called the police on the girl after examining her 20 days before her death. Again, the police accepted the parents’ explanation that she did not eat well due to an infection in her mouth.
Although of the same outpost, police officers who handled the case were all from different divisions. If any one of them checked earlier files, they would have suspected something. The police run a division devoted to children and teenagers. But it cannot even locate repeated reports.
The police let go of the two earlier officers with verbal warnings. The officer responsible for the third case was reported to the disciplinary committee. No one higher up on ladder is taking responsibility. Police authorities have grown under the Moon Jae-in administration. Now it has the authority to close a case without the prosecution and investigate North Korea-related cases instead of the National Intelligence Service.
The government and ruling party claim they have successfully wrapped up a drive to reform law enforcement agencies. The police cheered over its stronger role and authority. But it let a vice justice minister off the hook even after he assaulted a taxi driver, and also neglected child abuse cases. Can the law enforcement body be trusted with greater power?