The ruling party, the government and the presidential office on Thursday agreed on a bill to introduce a local autonomous police system, in which governors and mayors appoint the heads of police forces in their regions.
Seoul, Sejong, Jeju and two other local governments will run a pilot program of the system this year, Cho Jung-shik, head of the ruling Democratic Party’s policy committee, said during a press briefing after a meeting with representatives of the government and Cheong Wa Dae.
Some 43,000 officers, or 36 percent of the current national police force, will be transferred in phases by 2022 to the new local organizations whose chiefs will be appointed by governors or mayors, without hiring new officers.
The local autonomous police will handle traffic law enforcement, sex crimes, school and domestic violence and the obstruction of justice, while the current national police body will continue to be in charge of criminal investigations, public security, intelligence and foreign affairs and counterterrorism, among other areas.
Patrol divisions and police substations will be under the local autonomous police, while some facilities and officers, such as “regional patrol squads,” will remain under the national police to deal with serious crimes, accidents and urgent cases.
The move comes amid concerns among many police officers who fear they might have to handle miscellaneous work ordered by local administrations. More officers are applying to join the criminal department, which was previously unpopular among young officers due to the heavy work load that includes stakeouts.
The prosecution has also expressed dissatisfaction at the move. It has demanded an effective local autonomous police system as a prerequisite for handing over to police its control over initial investigations.
The prosecution on Thursday distributed a statement criticizing the government’s move to adjust investigative rights between police and the prosecution, as well as the local autonomous police system, to lawmakers on a special committee for judicial reform.
“Most of the panel at the public hearing (on Nov. 14) on the special committee’s adjustment of investigative rights said the prosecution should have stronger judicial control, but the committee is making the abolition of the prosecution’s command over investigations a fait accompli without discussion,” the prosecution said in the statement.
The special committee said it decided to repeal the prosecution’s command over investigations in a meeting of some of its members.
The prosecution added that the envisioned local autonomous police plan has been strongly criticized by a think tank affiliated with the ruling party and ruling party lawmakers.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)