우물 안 개구리

3/27/2008

Comparing Police Crime Statistics in the 1940s

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:58 pm Print

Matt over at Gusts of Popular Feeling has two wonderful postings (1, 2) based on his reading of Agnes Davis Kim’s I Married a Korean.

In the second posting, a considerable amount of the quoted passage given from the book talks about the widespread crime in the early postwar. For example this passage:

But when we arrived in Korea after World War II, everything was different. Through years of hunger and privation, the very nature of Koreans seemed to have changed. The calm dignity and courtesy which had marked them as a gentle people had given way to a defensively aggressive attitude that was often discourteous. Instead of a peaceful, law-abiding atmosphere in which everyone felt secure, the people lived under a constant threat of being robbed of what little they possessed. At night, a man might load his “jiggie” or cart with farm produce to take to market in the morning, only to find it was gone when he awoke and prepared to leave with it. Jars, pans, clothes left on the line to bleach, or anything removable what was left out at night, might be gone in the morning. This was almost unheard of happening during the pre-war days.”

However, the author doesn’t blame this on the disappearance of an orderly Japanese colonial master, but rightly notes one of highly disruptive causes for social instability:

The large amount of thievery which went on was not surprising however. During most of the time we were there under the United States occupation refugees from North Korea came into Seoul at a rate of about three thousand a day. These were people dispossessed of everything except the clothes they wore and what they could carry. So great was the refugee problem that relief facilities could not cope with it.

In the issues of “The Democratic Policeman” (民主警察) that I have been looking at the past few days there are all sorts of, often contradictory, statistics regarding crime in the early postwar period. You can also find wonderfully colorful charts and statistics in US military government publications for comparison.

The second issue of 民主警察 in the summer of 1947 opens with this overview of the crime fighting of the police for crimes including violations of US military orders, fraud, embezzlement, theft, and “other”:

1945.8 – 1945.12:
14,779 cases, 10,088 arrest cases, 12,607 people arrested 69.9% arrest rate reported
1946.1-12:
101,323 cases, 78,021 arrest cases, 108,793 people arrested 77% arrest rate reported1
1947.1-4:
36,168 cases, 27,284 arrest cases, 43,507 people arrested 75.4% arrest rate reported2

The rise in the number of cases when extrapolated is, of course, at least partly due to the fact that the Korean National Police, a very sizable number of whom were colonial period police who had fled their posts at liberation in the wake of violence and threats against accused collaborators. They were often only brought back to the job after the US forces arrived in September and were not fully functioning during the first months after August, 1945. In a letter, published in the journal, that the US advisor to the national police, Lt. Col. Harry E. Erikson, wrote to the head of the military government John R. Hodge with an accompanying new issue of the journal, Erikson asks Hodge not to be alarmed at the huge increase in the crime statistics because this merely reflected the “increase of efficiency” in crime reporting by the police.

However, Agnes Davis Kim’s report of the general state of crime and huge flood of refugees should be added to the fact that things were in fact, anything but stable, at least until after the suppression of the people’s committees throughout Korea after the uprisings of autumn, 1946. The starvation and poverty that contribute to the crime rate was also compounded by the division between North and South, US agricultural policies in South Korea, the loss of the Japanese market and supplies, etc.

(more…)

  1. Note: The 1946 statistics explicitly excluded crimes associated with “large incidents” – Here clearly referring to the hundreds of incidents of burning, looting, and brutal killings associated with the 1946 autumn uprising from late Septebmer to December. []
  2. 民主警察 1.2, in the opening article “해방이주년기념일를맞이하여:國內의治安基礎는鞏固” []

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