Korea Times

Korean police chief slammed for grooming orders

Police chief’s code of conduct notice slammed for recalling zero-tolerance hair laws some 50 years ago

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 11:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 11:44am

By Ko Dong-hwan

Who would have thought that America’s hippie culture of the 1960s would cause a “conflict of interests” in Korea’s Incheon police force a half-century later?

The clash revolves around a notice issued by Incheon Seobu Police Station chief Cho Eun-soo to officers on January 1. It included conduct codes on grooming and uniforms “to realise the reliable, devotional police force image,” and quickly spread on Facebook.

It aroused massive criticism from officers on SNS, saying Cho’s “passe” order reminds of the government’s zero-tolerance hair regulation in the early 1970s.

The notice highlighted officers’ hairdos, particularly perms, and their downgraded reliability because of not dressing properly on duty.

The notice required officers to “maintain a neat hairstyle, not leaving hair on the side and back bushy” and to “keep their uniforms ironed and shoes clean.”

It also ordered substation chiefs to “keep an eye on the officers’ cleanness on hairstyles and moustaches.”

Enraged Incheon police officers left more than 100 comments on Facebook, including: “Will skinhead pass the bar? Who decides the standards of being neat?”; “If the one in charge of making the standards does not like a certain style, does that style suddenly become unallowable?”; and “Whether it’s a perm, raised up or groomed mustache, why cannot they just let it go once they don’t look disgusting?”

Most said the notice harked back to the government’s hairdo regulation in 1970-71.

Koreans in the late 1960s and early 1970s began to enjoy the influx of US hippie culture, taking up acoustic guitar playing, drinking beer and wearing blue jeans. But with the slogan of “sweeping off debauchery fads,” police under the regime of dictator president Park Chung-hee the late father of incumbent President Park Geun-hye cracked down on men whose hair covered their ears and looked “anti-social” with longer back hair than women. Some were sentenced to a year or less in prison or fined 5,000 won (US$4) or more.

A Seoul Shimmun report from October 1, 1971, said police nabbed 1,164 citizens on one day and shaved their heads on the spot.

Meanwhile, some officers endorsed Cho’s notice, saying the new order is only natural to follow as a police officer.

Their voices are supported by laws that mandate police “must retain prestige at all times with kempt grooming and uniform.”

One netizen said: “It is one’s attitude problem when he or she misunderstands the guideline to stay looking neat as a violation of human rights. “ Another said: “There is no need to mention violating human rights in public workers being required to look neat in accordance with their class and status.”

In 2007, a court ruled in favour of a police officer who wanted to reverse his superiors’ decision to give him three months’ detention for growing a moustache.

The court dismissed the superiors’ reason for punishing the officer for “looking improper as a public worker,” adding there was no evidence the moustache made the officer look “delinquent.”

Hair-raising 'hippie' notice riles Incheon cops