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SEOUL — Dongducheon city officials are close to getting their own police department, a move that could bolster the local force by more than 200 officers and strengthen its authority when investigating crimes, according to a city official.

The $15 million proposal currently before the National Assembly comes as subway and apartment expansions in recent years have brought more people to this small city north of Seoul, according to Ko Tae-seok, the director of the city’s general affairs department.

But alleged crimes by U.S. servicemembers — such as a rape accusation this summer involving a 2nd Infantry Division soldier — also fuel the need, Ko said.

“Security, public peace and order are in high demand in this neighborhood, especially due to the stationing of U.S. troops,” Ko said through a translator during a telephone interview Monday. “With poor security, people have reported many, many, many complaints.”

Dongducheon is home to about 7,500 to 8,000 soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division at camps Casey and Hovey. The military bases occupy about 40 percent of the land in the city, according to Ko.

Currently, Dongducheon police work out of a precinct, or “box,” a substation that reports to higher-level police in the nearby city of Yangju, Ko said. All interviews and investigations for serious crimes are handled by Yangju police, who work about 30 minutes away by car.

A Dongducheon police station — built near or on a former U.S. military base called Camp Nimble — would provide more timely response, Ko said.

It also would allay the concerns of many of the city’s 90,000 residents. Earlier this year, more than 52,000 signed a petition asking for the expanded police presence, Ko said. City officials forwarded the petition to the assembly, the Korean National Police Agency and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Ko said.

The request now is before the assembly, which is expected to vote on the issue before the end of the year. If passed, construction on the station would begin in 2010 or 2011, Ko said.

The tentative schedule was moved up after this year’s public outcry, according to Ko.

The city doesn’t keep statistics about crimes involving U.S. servicemembers, Ko said. But he added that higher profile cases, such as this summer’s case involving the alleged rape of a 21-year-old woman and the arrest of a U.S. servicemember, contributed to the public push for a larger local department.

Sgt. Jonathan Kim, a division soldier, apologized in court last month for the attack, though he has not pleaded guilty. His next appearance in Seoul Central District Court is scheduled for Wednesday.


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