South Korea’s National Police Agency conducted raids on local police departments across capital Seoul a day after its head admitted “inadequate” action despite a dozen of emergency calls warning of swelling crowds before the stampede.
The raids are part of the investigation into whether police ineptitude contributed to a deadly crowd surge that killed 156 people in the neighborhood of Itaewon.
Questions are being raised over police actions as emergency call transcripts at least four hours prior to the stampede revealed that partygoers had alerted officials of the alley next to the Hamilton hotel becoming dangerously crowded.
Days after the crush, it emerged that there were just 137 police officers to control the 100,000-strong crowd.
On Wednesday, the raids were conducted in eight places, including Yongsan’s police station – whose jurisdiction includes Itaewon – and Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.
The special investigation unit retrieved documents and other materials for investigation from these offices.
National police chief Yoon Hee Keun launched an internal probe into the police officers’ handling of the emergency response to the deadly crush and the on-the-spot response to the crowd surge in Itaewon that night.
Mr Yoon acknowledged on Tuesday that crowd control at Seoul’s Itaewon district was “inadequate”, noting police received multiple emergency calls before the disaster.
His agency released the transcripts of 11 emergency calls recieved by police’s 112 emergency hotline by pedestrians in Itaewon warning of the impending disaster.
The first one was made around 6.30pm, about four hours before the crush on Saturday when unidentified callers pleaded for police to do something.
“That alley is really dangerous right now people going up and down, so people can’t come down, but people keep coming up, it’s gonna be crushed. I barely made it to get out but it’s too crowded. I think you should control it (sic),” a caller who was infront of a convenience store said.
In other similar calls, the Korean word that means “crushed to death” was used 13 times in alerts to officers.
“People will get crushed to death here. It’s chaotic,” one caller said.
Mounting evidence, a series of apologies by South Korea’s top leadership and experts have hinted at glaring failures in the crush.
Footage shared shortly before the deadly stampede showed the scale of the crowd that gathered in Itaewon. Thousands of people celebrating Halloween were seen in the narrow alley, with the crowd also spilling out to the road, packing the pavement with even more bodies.
Seoul’s mayor Oh Se-hoon and interior minister Lee Sang-min as well as the head of the Yongsan ward office and other officials have offered apologies.
Interior minister Lee Sang-min, who fuelled public anger by saying more police and firefighters would not have prevented the disaster, apologised on Tuesday and vowed a thorough investigation to prevent similar mishaps.
“As the minister overseeing the safety of the public, I express sincere apologies over the incident,” Mr Lee said, in a parliamentary session televised live.
South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol agreed that crowd management needed to improve.