Published : 2013-03-20 20:06
Updated : 2013-03-20 20:06
With few days going without news of murder or other felonies, many Koreans have begun to doubt the long-held perception that they live in a relatively safe society. A recent report backed up their doubt with some alarming comparative statistics.
The report released by the Korea Development Institute, a state-run think tank, showed the country’s homicide rate of 2.2 per 100,000 people exceeded the OECD average of 2.16 per 100,000. Korea had the ninth-highest murder rate among the 29 surveyed members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The country’s sex and theft crime rates were nearly double the OECD averages.
While crime rates have declined in most advanced nations since 2000, Korea has seen a continuous increase in criminal offenses, particularly felonies such as murder, robbery, rape and arson. The number of serious crimes reported jumped from 7,259 in 1980 to 27,482 in 2010. Sexual assaults, which accounted for about half of felonies, increased by an annual average rate of 6 percent. Figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime showed the rape crime rate amounted to 13.5 per 100,000 people in Korea in 2009, compared to 1.1 in Japan.
The KDI report indicated that 3 in every 100 Koreans fall victim every year to a range of crimes, which cause social costs estimated to take up more than 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The dismal statistics testify to the fictitiousness of the perception that Korean society is safer to live than most advanced countries, further raising the need for measures to get its citizens free of heinous crimes. It is needless to say that protecting people’s lives and property from crime is the most basic responsibility of a state.
President Park Geun-hye has pledged to usher in an era of “100 percent happiness” for all Korean citizens. Relieving them of anxiety over crime should be the first step toward achieving that goal. Koreans have many other things to be worried about ― the mounting threat from North Korea and the increasing uncertainty over their extended retirement.
Park has said her administration will put top priority on making the society safer and more secure, calling for strengthened efforts to eradicate what she termed as “four major vices” ― sexual offenses, domestic violence, school bullying and adulterated food. Her determination was reflected in changing the name of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration.
Fighting crime, however, needs much more than repeating a firm will. Strong and effective measures should be taken in a persistent and coherent manner.
What should be immediately done may be to increase the number of law enforcement officers and impose tougher penalties on heinous criminals. In Korea, there is 1 police officer for every 500 citizens, approximately twice the corresponding figure of other developed countries. During her campaign last year, Park promised to recruit 20,000 more police officers throughout her five-year term. That promise should be met. While taking an increasingly hard stance, judges are still urged to be further distanced from what critics describe as overly lenient sentencing on sexual offenders and other serious criminals.
More systematic and far-sighted approaches may need to be taken from various perspectives ― economic, social and cultural ― to reduce crime. Efforts to narrow the widening economic gap and tighten the social safety net would help reduce the motives for crime. It is also necessary to work out measures to prevent and effectively respond to crimes involving a growing number of expatriate workers and multicultural families.