The chief of police here is facing heated opposition from human rights organizations and even some officers after telling front line police to use their firearms more often.
This will be the third time that the National Police Agency Commissioner-General Cho Hyun-oh has ordered his officers to more readily use their firearms after officers simply watched a massive gang fight unfold.
“Police will wage war against organized gangsters by the end of this year,” said Cho.
“I will allow all kinds of equipment and gear (to be used) in the process of suppressing gangsters.”
Some 130 gang members from rival factions had an all-out brawl on the streets of downtown Incheon on Friday. One gang member was severely wounded.
Witnesses reported that some 70 police officers responded to the rumble near a funeral home, but they have face widespread public criticism for not intervening for two hours.
“Why do the officers carry guns? The police (at the scene) should have boldly resorted to pistol use,” said the police chief, who dismissed and reprimanded officers involved.
Cho ordered officers to decisively take action and use their firearms in the event officers are threatened inside the station or in order to suppress organized crime.
Cho is referring to an incident last May that prompted his first order this year, when an intoxicated man entered a Gwanak district police precinct and threatened officers with a knife. The senior officer fled the precinct leaving his subordinate to fend off the weapon-wielding attacker with a chair. The officer sustained minor injuries, but received criticism from Cho for failing to draw a weapon.
However, officers on the frontlines have a different view.
“It is simply an expression that (Cho) wants to clean up the streets of organized crime members,” said one police officer whose name was undisclosed to the media.
“There have been talks among officers that we’d rather get cut by a knife than use our firearm, because of the amount of responsibility that we have to shoulder,” the Seoul officer added.
“The rules and regulations in using our firearms is so strict that when time calls for use of a firearm, it’s not that easy to make the judgment,” said one senior officer here.
The senior officer also added that in the event of an accident, the officer involved takes the lion’s share of the burden.
Human rights organizations have been at odds with Cho over his decision, saying that it is not always that easy to discern the culprits in a situation, and that misuse can arise.
In August, Cho received criticism regarding the measures in a police handbook being written at the time that reaffirmed his stance on relaxing guidelines for police use of firearms.
“Even though there is some opposition against the use of guns, police officers should do what they should do,” said Cho at the time.
By Robert Lee