Seoul police, local govt offices searched over mishandling of fatal crowd surge

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taro Aso, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, visits a memorial altar in Seoul on Thursday for the victims of the crowd surge.

SEOUL — A special investigation team took the unusual step of searching eight locations including police stations and local government offices on Wednesday, amid mounting criticism over authorities’ mishandling of Saturday’s fatal crowd surge in Seoul’s popular Itaewon area.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, Yongsan Police Station and the administrative office in the Yongsan district where the incident occurred were among the locations searched by the team from South Korea’s National Police Agency.

Criticism has focused on the lack of crowd control measures in Itaewon’s heavily congested streets and shortcomings in the response to emergency calls placed before the accident that killed more than 150 people.

According to South Korean media, investigators seized items including documents detailing the dispatch of police personnel on the day of the deadly crowd surge and the responses to emergency calls.

The Seoul police agency reportedly declined a request from Yongsan Police Station to provide riot police to assist in crowd control. The relevant departments of the agency and the station appear to be the main targets of the investigation.

The National Police Agency also started an internal investigation conducted by a 15-member inspection team. According to Yonhap News Agency, the Yongsan Police Station chief has been put on leave.

The National Police Agency revealed Tuesday that 11 emergency calls were received starting about four hours prior to the crowd surge. The calls warned about the growing danger of the situation in Itaewon, including that people were at risk of being crushed to death. However, the response to these calls was inadequate.

According to Yonhap, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was enraged by a report on the lack of police response to the calls and demanded an investigation. The search by the National Police Agency appears to reflect the wishes of the Yoon administration.