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[Weekender] After K-pop, Korea eyes ‘K-cop wave’

With Korean pop culture, known as K-pop, enjoying steady popularity around the globe, South Korea is looking to export its homegrown policing tactics and equipment in the hope that it can spur what they call the “K-cop wave.”

Putting aside controversy at home over the excessive use of police equipment such as water cannons and pepper spray at rallies, South Korean police’s security capabilities have received the spotlight given its long years of experience in keeping public order through turbulent political times, and the country’s top-notch technology in investigating crimes and combating cyber and terrorism threats.

According to OECD Better Life Index released this year, 2.09 percent of people reported falling victim to assaults and other types of crimes last year, less than the OECD average of 3.9 percent. It ranked sixth in terms of safety among the surveyed 37 countries. 

Gari L. Baki, police chief of Papua New Guinea, talks to a Korean police official at an outdoor exhibition held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean police on Oct. 21, at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul. (KNPA)
Gari L. Baki, police chief of Papua New Guinea, talks to a Korean police official at an outdoor exhibition held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean police on Oct. 21, at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul. (KNPA)

Korea established a “K-cop center” in April as part of its efforts to spread its policing techniques and know-how in various fields covering public safety, scientific investigation and cybercrimes to mostly emerging countries, according to the police.

This year alone, the Korean police offered training to 189 officers from 25 countries including Indonesia and Guatemala, to share the nation’s policing system, field experiences and counterterrorism intelligence.

The investment for “K-cop wave” projects has soared, with the number of Korean police officers and crime experts dispatched abroad having risen ninefold from 10 in 2014 to 89 this year. The budget also increased fivefold to $20 million over the four years.

The police aim to send a total of 300 South Korean cops and experts abroad by 2018, the police said.

On the back of the heightened interest in Korean policing, the country has seen a rise in exports of police gear including smart cars equipped with IT technology, water cannons and riot shields. Korean firms sold police gear worth $171 million abroad from 2005 to 2014, with the exports worth $58 million as of September.

The government will provide financial assistance through the nation’s international cooperation agency of nearly $20 million to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Philippines by 2018 to build policing infrastructure there.

As Kim Jong-yang, commissioner of the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, was elected as one of the two vice presidents for Interpol executive committee, the police will also dispatch skilled officers to Interpol to help nurture policing capability for those from all over the world.

“I think that Korea has become known for its exports of superior policing system and equipment to countries around the world, which we call ‘K-cop wave,’” said Kang Sin-myeong, general commissioner of the Korean National Police Agency.

Exporting Korea’s policing skills, coupled with enhanced cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, could benefit Koreans abroad, he expected.

“We plan to expand the Korean Desk to seven more cities in the Philippines and dispatch Korean investigators to the crime scene so that we can help Filipino police officers swiftly probe cases involving our citizens,” Kang said.

Following a string of crimes targeting Korean nationals in the Philippines, the police launched a “Korean Desk” in 2010, setting up two offices in the two major cities of Manila and Angeles. The desk is aimed at better protecting its citizens abroad by dispatching Korean investigators to work together with Filipino authorities in criminal cases involving Korean nationals.

In the last four years, a total of 38 Koreans were murdered in the Philippines where about 100,000 Koreans reside.

According to the police, they plan to set up the Korean Desk in Vietnam next January. They are in talks with Indonesia to start one, too.

The police chief said he has asked Japan and China to create a trilateral committee with Korea to bolster cooperation in policing, though both neighboring countries seem to be cautious in taking the proposal forward.

By Ock Hyun-ju (