Due to the amount of attention in regards to US military crime in South Korea that the recent Itaewon Pellet Bandits caused; I decided to go ahead and compile USFK crime statistics from 2011 to see if the claims of out of control GI crime is true. I had previously not compiled the 2011 statistics due to the yellow journalism of the Korea Times after compiling the 2010 statistics. However, due to the high profile nature of the recent Itaewon incident I figured that compiling the statistics would be useful for people to really understand what the truth is in regards to GI crime in South Korea.
Before I get started first let me put the caveats up front. First of all for the Korea Times editors, if you plan to use my statistics could you please publish all the caveats that go with them? Secondly these statistics are not official USFK statistics. Let me repeat, these are not official USFK statistics. Ideally USFK should publish their own statistics to combat the blatant lies spread by the Korean media. Here is the latest tall tale from the Korean media in response to the recent pellet gun incident:
Out of 2,200 offenses involving USFK personnel over the last five years, only four soldiers were arrested and investigated. Under the Status of Forces Agreement between Seoul and Washington, Korean police cannot get custody of U.S. military personnel unless they are arrested on the spot for an offense. [Chosun Ilbo]
Despite easily accessible information showing that more than 4 GIs have been investigated, tried, and jailed by Korean authorities in the past five years the Chosun Ilbo decided to publish this disinformation anyway. Even more disappointing is that apparently no one at USFK cares enough to bother combating this media misinformation. So using the ROK Criminal Prosecutions Results that are published on the USFK website, I have compiled the statistics myself. Regardless of the unofficial nature of these statistics they should give everyone a good indication of trends in regards to GI crime in Korea. Here is one final caveat, USFK did not publish statistics for September 2011. Who ever posted the September 2011 ROK Criminal Prosecutions just re-posted the August 2011 results. When I contacted the USFK PAO running their Facebook page back then about the mistake they blew me off. So I had to make a minor approximation on the GI crime numbers due to this error that you will see below. With the caveats out of the way lets look at the numbers.
2011 USFK Servicemember Crime Convictions:
- Larceny: 14
- Destruction of Property: 9
- Damage to Property: 2
- Hit & Run: 13
- DUI: 47
- Assault: 2
- Trespass: 3
- Obstruction of Justice: 2
- Obstruction of Official Duties: 7
- Dangerous Driving: 1
- Bodily Injury: 36
- Intrusion: 1
- Fraud: 1
- Driving Without License: 2
- Traffic Violations: 12
- Rape: 2
- Robbery: 9
- Leaving Scene of Accident: 1
- Drug Crimes: 3
- Act On Punishment of Violence: 2
- Illegal Use of Auto: 1
- Special Robbery: 3
- Interference with Business: 3
These numbers come out to a total of 176 crime convictions in Korean courts of USFK servicemembers. However, since I mentioned before that USFK did not publish the September 2011 results this number is actually less than it really is. So I decided to use a monthly average of convictions to get an approximate number. So divided the 176 crime convictions by 11 months. This comes to 16 crime convictions a month which comes out 192 crime convictions in one year. This is way up from 2010 where I counted a total of 153 crime convictions and 2009 where there was 98 crime convictions.
Yearly USFK Servicember Total Crime Convictions:
- 2009: 98
- 2010: 153
- 2011: 192
So what is causing this increase in crime convictions? Like in prior years, a lot of the increase is from traffic related crimes due to the change in the USFK driving policy back in 2008 that allowed more servicemember drivers on the Korean roads. Here is a consolidated list of traffic related crimes for 2011:
USFK Servicemembers Total Traffic Related Crime Convictions:
- DUIs: 47
- Hit and Run: 13
- Dangerous Driving: 1
- Driving Without A License: 2
- Traffic Violations: 12
- Leave Scene of Accident: 1
- Illegal Use of Auto: 1
- Total: 77
Note that some of the bodily injury convictions could be traffic related as well because someone driving a car may hit a pedestrian and cause minor injuries and thus receive a bodily injury conviction. However, the ROK Criminal Prosecutions posted on the USFK website does not specify if the conviction is traffic related or not. So this number is likely higher than the 77 that I have counted. For comparison without including bodily injuries there was 51 traffic related crime convictions in 2010. In 2009 there was 40 traffic related crime convictions. Most of the traffic related conviction increase is from DUIs. I will discuss these traffic related crimes more in a future posting.
Something else that is important to keep in mind when looking at GI crime is that a crime convictions does not mean that is the number of servicemembers who committed crimes. There are many servicemembers who were convicted of multiple crimes from one incident. So I counted the number of servicemembers convicted of crimes last year and came to a total of 126 convicted criminals over the 11 months posted. So once again I had to determine a monthly average due to the September 2011 results not be posted. This comes out to about an average of 11 servicemembers convicted of crimes every month, thus the yearly total should be about 137 USFK servicemembers convicted of crimes in Korean courts in 2011. Here is how this number compares to prior years:
USFK Servicemembers Convicted In Korean Courts
It is important to keep in mind that this is 137 criminal convictions out of a population of up to reportedly 28,500 USFK servicemembers in South Korea. This comes out to .005 of the USFK population that has been convicted of a crime. We are talking very small numbers here. It is also important to remember that the crime rate is rising mostly because of traffic related incidents. So that is why I have always believed the best way to look at the USFK crime rate is to look at major crimes.
The Rate of Major Crimes
The Korean National Police Agency (KNPA) defines major crimes as being Murder, Rape, Theft, Burglary, and Assault. Here is a breakdown of the major crimes USFK servicemembers were convicted of in 2011:
2011 Statistics of Major Crimes Committed By USFK Servicemembers
- Murder: 0
- Rape: 2
- Theft: 15 (These are the Larceny & Fraud cases)
- Burglary: 12 (Includes Robbery & Special Robbery cases)
- Assault: 2
- Total: 31
Here is how the 2011 major crime statistics compare to prior years:
USFK Rate of Major Crimes from 2007-2011
- 2007: 23
- 2008: 15
- 2009: 21
- 2010: 48
- 2011: 31
The rate of major crimes is actually down in 2011 for USFK which is a good thing. However, I think the reason the major crimes is down is because some servicemembers may be getting convicted on lesser charges. In 2010 there were 24 servicemembers convicted of assault while in 2011 there was only 2 servicemembers. This is the major reason for the drop in major crime. What I think is happening is that the Korean courts are convicting these guys for bodily injury instead of for assault. I have no way to confirm this, but this is just an educated guess on my part since bodily injury convictions went up from 22 to 36 between 2010 and 2011. However, we are once again talking really small numbers here, however due to the two rape convictions in 2011 USFK received a lot of negative publicity in the Korean media that fanned the flames of out of control GI crime which that statistics show is not true.
Knock on wood, but as far as murders go the last murder of a Korean by a USFK servicemember was all the way back in June 2000 when Corporal Christopher McCarthy murdered a Korean prostitute in Itaewon. In fact a USFK servicemember was more recently murdered by a Korean than vice versa when in July 2000 Major David Berry was murdered in broad daylight in Itaewon by a deranged Korean man. Then there was the strange death of Specialist Vang Her who was killed in a strange incident by a Korean taxi cab that has never been fully explained as well.
Comparing USFK & Korean Crime Rates
So how does the USFK crime rate compare to the general Korean population? The Korean National Police Agency has statistics up to 2011 on their website:
Here is where I need to put a big disclaimer. Note that these statistics show occurrence and arrests, not convictions. The ROK Criminal Prosecution Results provided by USFK show convictions. I could not find a website that has South Korean conviction statistics broken out by the five major crime categories. If some one is able to locate them please let me know. Because of this lack of information this is not a perfect comparison for statistical purposes. However, if you go by the reports that Korea has a conviction rate of 99% then this comparison is useful in a general sense.
The best way to compare the Korean major crime rate to USFK is by using a ratio. A ratio can be determined by taking the total population and dividing it by the number of major crimes. Korea currently has a population of 49 million people while USFK reportedly has a population of 28,500 servicemembers. Using these population numbers this what the ratios come out to be:
- Korea: 1 major crime arrest out of every 128 people
- USFK: 1 major crime conviction out of every 919 people
Here is how it breaks down by each crime:
- Korea: 1 murder arrest out of every 42,461 people
- USFK: 0 murder convictions in 2011
- Korea: 1 rape arrest out of every 2,988 people
- USFK: 1 rape conviction out of every 14,250 people
- Korea: 1 burglary arrest out of every 14,476
- USFK: 1 burglary conviction out of every 2,375 people
- Korea: 1 theft arrest out of every 434 people
- USFK: 1 theft conviction out of every 1,900 people
- Korea: 1 assault arrest out of every 196 people
- USFK: 1 assault conviction out of every 14,250 people
So the only major crime category where the USFK ratio is higher than the Korean ratio is for burglary for whatever reason. Something else to keep in mind is that the USFK ratio is actually lower when one considers that only 24 people committed the 31 major crime convictions. So basically out of 28,500 servicemembers in USFK there is 24 serious criminals. Even though this is a very small number because of the two high profile rape incidents this number could of been two people and it would not have mattered because the perception would remain that GI crime is out of control.
So with so few GIs causing crime why do many in the general population believe that the GI crime is out of control in Korea? Like I said before, much of it has to do with the poor journalism in the Korea media that is often backed by shady statistics from anti-US groups. By now this should all be expected, so why doesn’t USFK do more to defend itself from the sensationalist Korean media? That is a question I have been asking for years and the only thing I can think of is that due to the short tours in Korea maybe people just do not care enough to defend USFK compared to if they were part of the 82nd Airborne for example? Also there is the language problem. There could be commanders who do not want to have USFK representatives defending the command in English and then be depended on bias Korean media to provide accurate translations. This is why USFK needs more people who can speak Korean, understand the culture, and can engage the media in Korean. That is why I have always said that USFK needs a “Korea Hands” program much like there is now a “AFPAK Hands” program which by the way has reportedly become a joke. So without proper management a Korea Hands could also become ineffective, but it is better than doing nothing to address the problem.
Something USFK can do without going through the Korean media is at least post official crime statistics on their website. They post the court martial and ROK criminal prosecution statistics online, but they need to take the next step and compile official statistics similar with what I have done. USFK should also get someone to start an offical USFK Korean language blog that can help communicate directly to the Korean public without going through the media. This closest thing they have to do this would be the USFK Good Neighbor website which is in Korean but has not been updated since last July. Maybe that is why USFK doesn’t start a blog because they cannot depend on anyone to maintain it? Anyway these are just some quick thoughts I have on how USFK should do to counter the blatant misinformation spread against the US military in Korea. Does anyone have any other ideas they want to share?
Anyway unless USFK does a better job defending itself, the Korean public is going to continue to believe that USFK is responsible for an inordinate amount of crime in Korea when analyzing the statistics clearly shows this is not true. However, facts mean little when people believe the perception and the perception won’t change unless USFK does more to change it themselves.