South Korea police Chief Admits Slow Response in Deadly Halloween Disaster

South Korea’s police chief has said crowd control during the Itaewon crush was “inadequate” – the first acknowledgement from officials that they did not do enough to prevent it, according to the BBC.

Yoon Hee-keun said police response was “disappointing” and that he felt “limitless responsibility about public safety” over what happened. His admittance comes amid growing calls for accountability. He vowed a full investigation.

The deadly incident killed 156 people and injured 152 others. It happened on Saturday night as crowds gathered in an alley in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul, the South Korean Capital, to celebrate Halloween without restrictions for the first time since Covid.

Mr Yoon said police had received numerous calls before the accident happened, alerting them to the seriousness of the situation, but their response was lacking. Seoul police said the first call to South Korea’s emergency number came at 18:34 local time and there were 10 more calls over the next three-and-a-half hours.

The deadly incident killed 156 people and injured 152 others. Here, a memorial has been set up to pay homage to the dead. Photo Credit: graph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

The police chief said the police would conduct a “speedy and rigorous intensive investigation” to see if proper action was taken after receiving the calls, and if officers had reacted appropriately.

Mr Yoon’s comments follow growing public demands for accountability. Authorities initially sought to portray it as an accident which could not be easily blamed on anyone.

The police earlier said they deployed more officers for this year’s Halloween festivities than they did for pre-Covid parties. One congressman on Tuesday also pointed out that because there was no main organiser for the party, there had been no special requests made to the police for crowd control and safety management.

“It’s impossible to ask for legal responsibility, as nobody was responsible,” said Yoo Sang-bum, who is with the ruling People’s Power Party, on local radio.

But President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Tuesday the incident revealed the importance of crowd management and a lack of research in South Korea on the subject.

“Rather than nitpicking about whether the event had an organiser or not, it’s the people’s safety that’s important, and we need to come up with thorough measures,” he said, while suggesting the use of drones and other digital capabilities to manage crowds in future events.

President Yoon had been facing mounting political pressure and plummeting ratings even before the incident. Police have said that on Saturday night they had to redirect some of their resources to manage huge protests against the government elsewhere in the city.

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