Effective control needed for the police

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Effective control needed for the police

Kim Jong-min

The author is an attorney and co-president of the Citizens Coalition for Social Justice.

Police reform has become urgent after an advisory committee under the minister of the interior and safety recommended the establishment of a police reform committee directly under the president. An alternative option was later proposed to newly install a post of police policy officer within the ministry of the interior and safety to enhance the democratic control, supervision and command of the police, which will become more powerful when they take away investigative powers from the prosecution in September. While sympathizing with the need for a system to check the mighty police, opponents criticize the measure for intensifying the police’s subordination to political power.

At this point, it is important to properly examine the essence of the police system and its institutional specificities and problems. The police use orders and coercion against individuals as a means to maintain public order and well-being. According to the law, police officers can conduct stop-and-question, protective measures, and measures to prevent danger. Police equipment includes various weapons and aircraft to carry out counter-espionage operations and unrest suppression.

The essence of the police is a centralized national police system of 140,000 policemen under the commissioner general of the National Police Agency. The autonomous local police system was introduced in July 2021. But compared to the UK, Japan and Germany with extremely low proportion of national police in the total police force, Korea’s autonomous police is nominal. Police power in most developed countries is strictly decentralized — and are mainly local autonomous police.

Just as the Ministry of Economy and Finance is in charge of related laws and regulations for the National Tax Service and the Korea Customs Service, it is common in major developed countries for a central ministry to oversee the police. In France, the Interior Ministry is in charge of works related to appointments, budget and policy of the police, and the same goes for Germany.

In the case of prosecutors, the Ministry of Justice has the authority for appointments and budget. But only the National Police Agency has exercised the rights to establish public security policies and systems, make appointments, and draw up the budget on its own. The Ministry of Justice has the authority to command investigation and supervision over the prosecution, but abnormally, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety has no command or authority over the police.

The Korean police are a single, centralized state organization with concentrated authority. No such organization can be found in other countries. Despite having enormous authority, the system for control and supervision of the police is lacking. Before the readjustment of the investigative authority between the prosecution and the police, which was pushed by the Moon Jae-in administration, there was the system of the prosecution commanding police investigations. But since January 2021, the police began to exercise its independent investigation power and the power to unilaterally end primary investigations. In this situation, a system to effectively supervise and control the police has to be prepared.

Although the National Police Commission was established in 1991, not many people know about it. It is impossible for the nominal committee to control and supervise the powerful police with the powers to conduct independent investigation and end primary investigation.

The direction of police reform is clear. It is necessary to decentralize the centralized police organization and create a system for the Ministry of the Interior and Safety to effectively control and supervise the police. The police should be made to faithfully serve as a law enforcement agency for public safety policies drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. Just like the prosecution, the interior ministry should be in charge of police appointments and budget.

The interior ministry has come to consider the installation of the post of police policy officer because the ministry’s administrative demand has increased after the Yoon Suk-yeol administration abolished the office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in the Blue House, which commanded the police. It is up to the government to decide whether to newly install the position in the ministry, not a matter to be legislated by the National Assembly.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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