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Lee Moo Young (Int'l Edition)

International -- The Stars of Asia -- Policymakers

Lee Moo Young (int'l edition)

Commissioner Gen. -- National Police Agency -- South Korea

If Seoul is less and less the scene of brutal clashes between riot police and fury-prone demonstrators, thank the country's top policeman. Lee Moo Young, 56, has spent his past seven months as Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency making the once-notorious force a kinder, gentler institution--and one that's doing a better job of fighting crime.

Lee started with a game plan aimed at ending mistrust, corruption, inefficiency, torture, and other abuses associated with South Korea's 95,000-strong police force. In December, he launched a 100-day reform campaign targeting rank-and-file officers. He gave them 221 goals, from streamlining red tape to stamping out teenage prostitution in a Seoul red-light district known as Miari Texas. The agenda was loaded with sweeteners to boost morale: shorter work hours, expunging of past records, and an electronic reporting system to slash workloads.

Happier officers do their jobs better, and arrests of violent criminals are up 10%, while the overall crime rate has dropped 13.5%. "Corruption arises from poor working conditions," says Lee, a lifelong officer who rose through the ranks vowing to rid the police force of its authoritarian image.

Lee also has done much to ease tense relations with the public. Surveys show that more than three-quarters of South Koreans believe officers are friendlier now. And demonstrations are noticeably less violent after Lee banned the use of tear gas against protesters--a big change since police fired 130,000 canisters during 1997, the most violent recent year of demonstrations. Lee also makes greater use of policewomen, figuring angry protesters will be less inclined to strike them. The strategy worked. "One female officer on the front line is equivalent to 10 male officers in riot gear," says Lee. Lee aims to raise the number of women recruits tenfold this year, to more than 600, and plans to raise women's share of the force to 4% by 2003. Lee, who with his wife hikes mountain trails several mornings a week, says he disagrees with the widely held Confucian belief in Korea that the presence of women weakens a group. Lee admits it will take time to change all the "old habits and bad customs that have been building for 55 years." But he's sure walking the right beat.

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