Give us a reason to trust in the police

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Give us a reason to trust in the police

Jeong Jin-ho
The author is a reporter of economic policy team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
No one talked down. They talked with respect and didn’t forget to say “thank you,” despite being in the middle of chaos. “People might die here,” they said desperately and urgently, but without disrespect.
A total of 122 calls were made to the Itaewon Police Station on Oct. 29, on the day the tragedy happened. Of those, 11 calls made between 6:34 p.m. and 10:11 p.m. reporting signs of the deadly crowd crush, were made public. Screaming and groaning was audible in the background. What’s noticeable is the two words, before they hung up. “Thank you,” they said.
The police said “I’ll check it,” or “Our officers will be there soon.” “Okay, we need your help now. Thank you,” answered the callers. At 8:09 p.m., just two hours before the crush took place, a caller pinpointed the exact location and said people were already being injured.
There is no intention to blindly blame the police. It is true that we need to keep on eye on the result of the investigation, but officers in Yongsan must have been doing their best. Given the fact that calls to 112 are answered at the 112 call center of the Seoul Metropolitan Police with a number of different officers answering the calls for the entire metropolitan area, it might have been hard to grasp exactly what was happening. 
Still, a police chief with 30 years of service said, “People repeatedly made calls reporting signs of an accident at the same location. If the officer in command made the call more swiftly and gave appropriate orders, it would have been different.”  
The callers said “thank you” and were relieved, because they trusted the government and the police. They believed that those in charge would take control of the precarious scene. They respected the authority.
What the police must not forget is that people expressed trust and gratitude toward them. They called for help in a desperate situation.  
The very first duty of police officers is the “protection of people’s lives, bodies and property.” It is stipulated in the Act on the Performance of Duties by Police Officers. They take action to control extremely congested areas or perilous situations. 
The law gave them the authority to warn those who assembled in an overcrowded place, detain them and help them find refuge. They were given those rights to protect people. The Supreme Court ruled that not using those rights in a dire emergency is a violation of duty.
After all, no one can blame the people who were waiting to be rescued after hanging up their phones and saying “thank you.”
The task ahead is clear. The people believed the nation would save them when they were in danger. It didn't. Instead of just seeking a scapegoat, the powers need to prove that there are people and a system that deserves the trust.

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