Police to request probe into Yongsan police chief, Seoul police situation monitoring officer

SEOUL– The National Police Agency decided to request a probe into the head of the Yongsan Police Station and a situation monitoring officer at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in connection with the bungled police response to the deadly Itaewon crush, officials said Thursday.

The decision came as criticism of police has been mounting following revelations that police did little to prevent the crush even though a total of 11 emergency calls alerting them to overcrowding in Itaewon were filed before the accident.

Further revelations showed that the national police chief learned of the accident nearly two hours after it happened, and an hour and 13 minutes after President Yoon Suk-yeol was informed of the accident.
The National Police Agency will request a special investigation team to investigate Lee Im-jae, the chief of the Yongsan Police Station that polices Itaewon, and Ryu Mi-jin, who was in charge of situation monitoring at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency at the time of the deadly accident, over negligence of duties.

Ryu was accused of neglecting her duties to promptly recognize the emergency situation and report it to the Seoul police chief and to the situation room of the National Police Agency.

Lee also neglected his duties to command police response to the crush by arriving at the site too late and by belatedly reporting the situation to higher levels, the officials said.

The National Police Agency also sidelined Ryu from duty and put her on disciplinary “standby.” Lee was given the same disciplinary decision a day earlier.

The tragedy happened Saturday night when a massive crowd of Halloween partygoers packed a narrow 3.2-meter-wide alley in Seoul’s entertainment district of Itaewon and left 156 people killed.

On Wednesday, the special investigation team raided the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, the Yongsan Police Station and six other offices and seized police work logs from the night of the crowd crush.

Officials said the focus of the investigation was on whether police officers who received emergency calls before the deadly crowd surge had been faithful to their duties and whether police commanders and officers on duty had responded properly.

The investigation was also expected to delve into whether the Yongsan Police Station had done sufficient public order or safety management planning ahead of the massive gatherings.

Up to 100,000 were forecast to show up in Itaewon for Halloween celebrations Saturday, but only about 200 police officers were reportedly dispatched to Itaewon, mainly for sex, drug and theft crackdown missions.

Critics said the accident could have been avoided or minimized if police had responded in a timely manner.

Park Hong-geun, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said Thursday the party will submit a request for a parliamentary investigation into the Itaewon crowd crush and urged President Yoon to sack the national police chief and Interior Minister Lee Sang-min for the bungled disaster response.

The government, meanwhile, said Thursday that out of the 156 dead crush victims, funeral procedures of 121 South Koreans have been completed while the bodies of seven out of the 26 foreign victims have also been sent to their home countries.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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