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South Korea



Figure 18. Organization of the National Police, 1989

Source: Based on information from Republic of Korea, National Police Headquarters, Korean National Police, Seoul, 1989.


Police box
Courtesy Korean National Police


Emergency training, Korean National Police
Courtesy Korean National Police

Organized by the United States Army Military Government in 1945, the Korean National Police (KNP) force was formally activated in 1948 by the new Korean government and placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Even after the establishment of a separate military service in 1948, the police force retained a paramilitary role and was employed in military operations during the Korean War.

Attacked in its early years as a remnant of Japanese colonial rule (1910-45), beset by low professionalism, factionalism, endemic corruption, and political manipulation, the Korean National Police nonetheless still evolved into a relatively modern and effective force. Although the police force was used by the Rhee regime in such a flagrantly political way that it was held in low esteem by the citizenry, reforms made after the 1961 military coup began the police force's slow evolution into a professional force. Reorganization, recruitment by examination, merit promotion, and modern concepts of management and training were instituted. Further improvements came during the 1970s when modern communication, data processing, and crime detection practices were introduced.

In 1975 the director general of the KNP was elevated to vice- ministerial rank directly under the minister of home affairs. The KNP reported through its own channels to its headquarters in Seoul. Provincial governors and local officials had no authority over the police.

In addition to the regular police functions of law enforcement, criminal investigation, and public safety, the KNP was responsible for riot control, countering student demonstrations, and other public disorders. Coastal security, including patrolling coastal waters, antismuggling operations, and coordinating counterespionage operations with the navy and the air force, were also its purview. "Combat operations" against small-scale North Korean infiltration attempts; the monitoring of foreign residents in South Korea; anticommunist operations, including counterintelligence activities and monitoring of "security risks" (historically expanded to including monitoring political, labor, economic, academic, religious, and cultural figures); and counterterrorist operations were all part of the mission of the KNP. There sometimes was competitive overlap between the KNP, ANSP, and the DSC.

In 1989 the KNP was a 130,000-person organization that consisted of a headquarters, thirteen metropolitan/provincial police bureaus, the Combat Police, the National Maritime Police, an antiterrorist unit, the Central Police Academy, and other support services, such as a forensics laboratory, a hospital, and other police schools. As of January 1989, there were 201 police stations and 3,220 police substations and detachments throughout the country.

The National Police Headquarters exercised authority over all police components. Metropolitan and provincial police bureaus were responsible for maintaining public order by directing and supervising their own police stations (see fig. 18).

The police station was responsible for maintaining public peace within its own precinct. The police station had seven functioning sections: an administration and public safety section, responsibile for operation and supervision of police substations and boxes, litigation of minor offenses, traffic control, and crime prevention; a security section, responsible for maintaining public order; an investigation section for investigating criminal incidents, lawsuits, booking criminals, custody of suspects, detention-cell management, and transference of cases and suspects involved in criminal cases to prosecution authorities; a criminal section responsibile for crime prevention; a counterespionage section; and an intelligence section, responsible for collection of intelligence and information. The police substation or police box took preliminary actions in all criminal incidents, civic services, and accidents.

Police boxes were the South Korean equivalent of the cop on the beat. They provided direct contact between the people and the police. Police box personnel were supposed to know their areas and the people who lived and worked in them. Police boxes were commanded by lieutenants or sergeants and had reaction vehicles available on a twenty-four-hour basis.

Weighed down by a wide range of administrative duties, KNP personnel spent only 15 percent of their time on routine enforcement duties in 1989. Among other things, the KNP collected fines, approved death certificates, and processed security checks for passport applicants. The personnel shortage was acute; official statistics showed that there was only one police officer (excluding the Combat Police, who accounted for nearly half the strength of the KNP) for every 680 South Koreans, as compared with one police officer for every 390 people in the United States, one for every 318 people in West Germany, and one for every 551 people in Japan (the lowest ratio for any major industrialized noncommunist country). This shortage was compounded by a tight budget and the continued preoccupation with riot control, which left the force ill equipped to deal with the demands of an increasingly affluent and sophisticated society.

Recruitment and training were done through the Central Police Academy, the National Police College, and the Police Consolidated Training School. The Central Police Academy was established in 1987. It had a maximum capacity of 35,000 recruits and was capable of simultaneously offering a six-week training course for police recruits, a two-week training course for draftees of the Combat Police, and a variety of basic specialized training courses for junior police. Officials planned to recruit about 10,000 new police officers a year from 1989 to 1991 to alleviate the personnel shortage, although their ability to maintain the quality of the force, given the low starting pay, was questioned. Only 12 percent of police applicants were university graduates in 1989. Screening unsuitable recruits was problematic because neither psychiatric nor polygraph assessments were administered. (In 1982, for example, an unstable police officer killed fifty- four people in one night following a domestic dispute.)

By 1989 the National Police College had graduated some 500 officers since its first class graduated in 1985. Each college class had about 120 police cadets, divided between law and public administration specializations. The National Police College began admitting women in 1989; five women were admitted each year. The cadets shared a collective life for four years at the college. The goal was to establish a career officers corps similar to those created by the military academies.

The Police Consolidated Training School provided advanced studies, basic training for junior police staff, and special practical training courses for security and investigative officers from the counterespionage echelons of police agencies. It also trained Maritime Police instructors, key command personnel for the Combat Police force, and foreign-language staff members.

Revolvers and carbines were the customary weapons; billy clubs were carried by patrol officers. The gradual replacement of carbines by rifles began in 1981. In 1989 the KNP reemphasized the planned replacement of carbines with M-16 rifles. Approximately 4,300 M-16s were to be supplied to police boxes and stations in 1989; by 1999 a total of 110,000 M-16s were scheduled to be distributed. Transportation was by motorcycle, bicycle, jeep, truck, and squad car.

The KNP's special weapons and tactics squad was known as Force 868. Organized in 1982, its members were trained in martial arts and counterterrorist tactics. It received significant support and advice from United States and West European counterterrorist task forces preceding the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was well supplied with the more specialized equipment needed for combating terrorism.

The Combat Police force was technically subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense, but the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Korean National Police were responsible for its operational management and budget. During hostilities, the Combat Police reverted to the Ministry of National Defense. The members of the Combat Police were conscripted at age twenty or older and served for approximately two-and-a-half years. Divided into companies, the Combat Police force was assigned to the metropolitan police bureaus. Except for supervisory personnel who were regular KNP officers, the Combat Police were paramilitary; their primary responsibilities were riot control and counterinfiltration. Under normal conditions, they did not have law enforcement powers as did regular KNP officers. In 1967 the Combat Police force was organized to handle counterinfiltration and antiriot duties.

Approximately half of the total strength of the KNP was formed into 350 Combat Police/riot control companies. The percentage of Combat Police in the total force increased during the 1980s. In 1982 there were 39,706 Combat Police, about 40 percent of the police total. By 1987 Combat Police represented 45.8 percent of the total force with 54,100 members. Since service in the Combat Police was regarded as fulfilling a military obligation, young men who did not wish to serve the compulsory minimum thirty-month service in the military could opt for a thirty-five-month stint with the Korean National Police as combat police. Draftees into military service also could be assigned to the Combat Police force after completion of basic training.

While the police were relatively well trained and disciplined, illegal police behavior in the conduct of investigations or handling of suspects was occasionally a serious problem. In 1985, for example, as a result of some form of official misconduct, one-fourth of Seoul's detectives were transferred, demoted, or otherwise disciplined. Rough treatment of suspects before a warrant was obtained was a continuing problem. Redress in cases of official misconduct normally was handled internally and rarely resulted in criminal charges against police officials.

Historically, the use of excessive force by the police was pervasive. In violent confrontations with student demonstrators, police units generally remained well disciplined, but rioters were beaten on apprehension, often by plainclothes police. Charges of police beatings in nonpolitical cases were made fairly frequently and sometimes were reported in the press. Antigovernment youth activists were subjected to repeated and severe physical torture, at times resulting in death during interrogations. Various degrees of physical maltreatment, including sleep and food deprivation, electric shocks, beating, and forced water intake were common during police interrogations under the Rhee, Park, and Chun regimes. With the founding of the Sixth Republic, such reports declined. However, according to the United States Department of State's reports on human rights, some credible allegations of torture were made during the last half of 1989 by persons arrested under the National Security Act. Credible allegations of cruel treatment also continued in 1990. Although political cases received the most publicity, mistreatment of people detained or arrested for nonpolitical crimes is alleged to be widespread.

Data as of June 1990

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