Now it’s the police versus the government

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Now it’s the police versus the government

Despite repeated warnings by the leadership of the National Police Agency (NPA), heads of nearly two hundred police stations across the country gathered at an internal training center in Asan, South Chungcheong, over the weekend to oppose a move by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety to create a bureau for police administration. Such a group action by top police officers is unprecedented.

After the Yoon Suk-yeol administration announced a plan to establish such a bureau controlled by the ministry, many in the police have resisted the plan, calling it a legacy of past authoritarian governments. Police officers staged protests, including shaving their heads.

Their argument against the installation of a retrogressive bureau in the ministry is not entirely wrong. And yet, senior police officers’ choice of a frontal clash with the government was not the wisest course.

Our society has long been dominated by resorts to physical force to achieve goals. The police exist to uphold law and order. If they launch a collective action just because they don’t like a government policy, who will keep them from resorting to more extreme action? Furthermore, the police will soon wield greater power than before after the Moon Jae-in administration entirely stripped the prosecution of its investigative authority and gave it to the police. A radical move by the police under such circumstances only helps fuel public anxieties.

The police officers justify their action as part of efforts to protect their neutrality. But it only fans conflict in political circles. Rep. Kim Ki-hyun, a former floor leader of the governing People Power Party (PPP), lamented a “mutiny by some police officers,” while Rep. Seo Young-gyo from the opposition Democratic Party (DP) lambasted the government for trying to control the police.

The Ministry of the Interior and Safety is not free from responsibility for the worsening of the situation. In the face of strong opposition from the National Police Commission and academia, the ministry pressed ahead with the establishment of the bureau. After Ryu Sam-young — the organizer of the meeting at the training center and head of a police station in Ulsan — was suspended for his role, a number of police officers started to demand the ministry suspend them too. They consider it a badge of honor.

Yoon Hee-geun — current NPA deputy head and candidate to be the next police chief — must take responsibility for the lead-up to the group action and demonstrate his ability to command the law enforcement agency. It he fails to put the brakes on this confrontation, it could deal a critical blow to the government.
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