Fixing the appointment system for the police
In a surprising turn of events, Kim Chang-yong, the head of the National Police Agency, abruptly announced the transfer of 28 senior officers to other posts on Tuesday without even getting approval from the president. Just two hours after the announcement of the reshuffle, seven of the 28 officers were assigned to new posts. Such a fast transfer of police positions in an unconventional way sounds alarms for the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.
In an interview with reporters at the doorstep of his office in Yongsan Thursday, President Yoon was apparently displeased with the police chief's blitzkrieg-like decision. Yoon called it a case of "critical lack of discipline" and an "unfathomable mistake" by a government official. The president wondered how such transfers could be made before he heard opinions from the minister of the interior and safety, who commands the police, and without his own approval.
In response, the National Police Agency first said that it had made the mistake of sending a reshuffle plan, which was not final, to the minister. But later, the agency accused the interior ministry of having submitted a wrong version to the presidential office.
The episode took place on the day when recommendations were made by an advisory committee for the minister on democratic ways to control the police, whose power will get bigger after prosecutors are entirely deprived of their investigative authority in September. Therefore, suspicion deepens over the police chief making the transfers that day.
Some have linked the episode to the need for high-ranking police officers to express their disgruntlement about the conservative government's effort to control the police. If the incident reflects top officers' intentions, that's a serious problem.
The government must start an investigation of the case immediately. As it involves a sitting police chief, the police can hardly find the truth through its own audit and inspection. It will be better for a presidential secretary in charge of public discipline or the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) to look into the case through consultations with the police agency and the interior ministry.
The incident occurred after the interior ministry began to discuss feasible ways to control the powerful police after Yoon closed the controversial office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, which oversaw reshuffles of senior police officers in the past. The presidential office wants to follow the procedure of a president appointing the head of the police after listening to suggestions from an interior minister about appointments by a police chief. The government must fix the appointment system of the police as soon as possible.