With the police, enough is enough

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With the police, enough is enough

J. K. Sakong
The author is a professor of mental health sciences at Dongguk University’s College of Medicine.

The politicians, who had taken away the prosecution’s investigative power by saying it was too strong and politically motivated and that the police were too weak, are now demanding that the police should become an independent organ, once again using a similar argument that the Ministry of Interior and Safety is too strong, while the police are too weak.

I cannot understand why the police should become an independent body. Independence of state powers is based on the principle of separation of three powers. State powers are divided into legislative, judicial and executive branches to maintain checks and balances. It is the spirit of the Constitution to operate the principle of separation of three powers, which stops centralization and abuse of powers.

Both the prosecution and the police belong to the executive branch. The prosecution and the police, according to the Constitution, are under the control and supervision of the president, the head of the executive branch whom the people elect. It is obvious that the two law enforcement agencies are under the control and supervision of the president and the relevant minister.

Is there any organ under the executive branch that does not submit to the control and supervision of the president and relevant ministers? The prosecution is under the control and supervision of the Ministry of Justice. Why is the National Police Agency demanding independence from the control and supervision of the Ministry of Interior and Safety? The president has the power to control the military and the military is directly controlled and supervised by the Ministry of National Defense. Independence of the police is unconstitutional and unlawful. In the case of France and Germany, their interior ministries oversee appointments, budget and all relevant policies of the police.

The Ministry of Justice has the power to make appointments and control the budget of the prosecution. But the National Police Agency’s powers to decide public safety policy, appointment and budget are independent from the Ministry of Interior and Safety. The Justice Ministry has the power to command an investigation of the prosecution and conduct an audit, but the Ministry of Interior and Safety has no such power over the police. The police, compared to the prosecution, are currently enjoying enormous privileges.

An agency is a central administrative body under a ministry to perform tasks through autonomous execution. The government organization law says the executive branch is composed of 18 ministries, five administrative authorities and 18 agencies. Other than the National Police Agency, none of the 17 agencies such as the National Tax Service, Korea Customs Service, Public Procurement Service, Statistics Korea, Military Manpower Administration, Korea Coast Guard and Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency demanded independence. All 17 of them are under the control and supervision of their relevant ministries.

I cannot understand the logic of the people who demand the independence of the National Police Agency. They argue that if the Ministry of Interior and Safety oversee the National Police Agency, the police will act to please the administration. Does this mean that all 17 other agencies have been left to please the administration?

In March, President Moon Jae-in held his final cabinet meeting of his term and promulgated revisions of the Criminal Procedure Act and the Prosecutors’ Office Act, designed to take away investigative powers from the prosecution. After the laws take effect in September, the National Police Agency will have investigative powers over most cases. Furthermore, as the presidential office has shut down the office of the senior secretary for civil affairs, the police will practically monopolize all intelligence.

Starting next month, the police will also take over investigations of three major military crimes — sex crimes, crimes before enlistments, and criminal deaths of soldiers — from the military police. In 2024, the National Intelligence Service also will hand over its investigative power over national security cases to the police. The National Police Agency will become extremely powerful. Enough is enough.

Members of the police are public servants. They must maintain political neutrality, not independence. The National Police Agency must uphold fairness, not abuse of power. The people do not want a republic of police. The country is a democratic republic. In a democratic republic, sovereignty belongs to the people.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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