No vacuum is allowed in public safetyGroup action by police to defy the decision by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety to create a bureau for police administration inside the ministry is going out of control. After the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration vowed to sternly deal with such a group action by the police, the two sides appear on a collision course.
The standoff started after heads of nearly 200 police stations across the country held a meeting at an internal training center in Asan, South Chungcheong over the weekend to oppose the ministry’s move to “control the police.” In reaction, the leadership of the National Police Agency (NPA) suspended Ryu Sam-young — the organizer of the rally — from his position as the chief of a police station in Ulsan about two hours after the meeting of senior officers at the center.
After the decision to suspend him, mid-to lower-level officers in police stations around the country are shaking. They proposed to hold their own meeting at the same center Saturday to protest the ministry’s attempt to “reign in the law enforcement agency.” The proposal was soon backed by their colleagues in smaller units of the police.
In response to the group action, President Yoon Suk-yeol tersely said, “I believe that the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and the NPA will take necessary steps soon.” Following the president’s comment, Lee Sang-min, head of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, compared the group action to the 1979 “military coup” by a group of military leaders. “The meeting of heads of police stations calls for a criminal punishment, not a mere disciplinary action,” he said.
As minister Lee pointed out, the group action in defiance of a government decision cannot be justified. They are not allowed to stage any rally without a permission from their leadership. Such a rally can shake the very foundation of law and order. If the mid-to lower-level officers hold a meeting on Saturday, they must be held accountable for reneging on their duties on the frontline.
It all started after the Moon Jae-in administration railroaded a bill through the legislature to deprive the prosecution of its investigative authority and give it to the police. After reaching conclusion that the National Police Commission cannot help check the mighty police, the government wanted to establish a bureau for police administration in the ministry. The ministry is to submit a revision of the related enforcement ordinance to a Cabinet meeting today. But the government did not fully explain the change to the police and or persuade them.
The government’s attacks on the police under such circumstances can only heighten tensions. For instance, minister Lee’s comparison of the group action to a military coup can provoke a number of police officers who are faithfully doing their jobs. We hope the government stabilizes the police organization fast so as not to leave any vacuum in public safety.