Police seek to legalize private investigators

By Lee Kyung-min  | http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/

A group of senior and retired police officers have set up an organization in a bid to legalize private investigators, according to police, Sunday.

This is the first time that former and incumbent police officers are seeking to allow private detectives in Korea, while previously demands have usually come from the so-called “errand centers,” companies that work for individual clients.

According to the National Police Agency (NPA), a notice has been recently posted on the police’s intranet to recruit members for the organization. It is aimed at studying overseas private investigator systems with the final goal of having the National Assembly legalize the profession.

Retired officers or those who are scheduled to retire in the next five years are eligible to apply.

“Police cannot intervene actively in many civil cases such as disputes over medical malpractice and insurance, sometimes because of manpower or budget shortages,” according to an officer at Jongno Police Station. “We believe that private investigators would meet the demand by clients in such cases,” he said.

The group said that the legalization would allow their decades of experience and expertise to be used to meet the growing demand from citizens for cases that are unresolved or neglected by police or prosecutors.

“Wouldn’t it be a waste if the government-educated investigators all retired and their ability to help society remained unused?” the officer said.

The NPA has consented to legalizing the profession, as a means of helping retired officers. It said in a study last year that a private investigator system would create 15,000 jobs.

According to the NPA, Korea is the only country among 34 OECD members that has not legalized the private investigator profession.

Currently, some 2,400 people are registered under the Korean Association of Private Investigation and the Association of Korea Private Investigation, but what they do is not legally recognized.

The police group said if the profession is legalized, it would solve problems arising from illegal activities by “errand centers,” such as privacy infringement and illegal tapping.

But the legal circle is cautious about adopting the profession.

The Korean Bar Association (KBA) said legalization of the profession would fundamentally undermine the rule of law.

“So far, investigation by police and prosecution, meaning law enforcement authorities, has already caused problems as they often violate due process by collecting evidence illegally,” a KBA official said.

“Given that, investigation by private investigators would violate human rights of ordinary citizens,” she added.

A total of seven similar legislative moves were introduced by numerous lawmakers since 1995, only to be discarded as the National Assembly failed to pass them due to conflicting opinions of the involved parties.