In recent years, the crime rate in South Korea, particularly crimes committed against children and the elderly, is on a rising trend. Against the backdrop of growing public concerns, the government has come up with an innovative crime prevention and reporting system known as the "SOS Public Relief Service". After a four-month trial period, the government has since decided to expand the service nationwide in September 2011.

Existing crime reporting system

Prior to the introduction of the SOS Public Relief Service, the South Korean police operates a 112 service, which is similar to the 911 service in the United States.  However, the South Korean police has observed that in many criminal cases, the victim was often unable to communicate properly with the police for several reasons. Firstly, the criminal offender was also present, making it difficult, if not impossible for the victim to speak to the police over the phone. Secondly, the victim was so overcome by fear or traumatised by the experience that he or she was unable to call the police. Thirdly, the victims are either children or the elderly who are physically overcome or subdued by the criminal offender, thus are unable to report the crime immediately to the police.

Given such limitations, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the National Police Agency in South Korea have come up with a new crime prevention and reporting system which relies more on non-verbal communications. In this way, the victim is able to report his or her location, without the criminal knowing about it.

Korean mobile phone

How does it work?

In the event of either witnessing a crime or being a victim of a crime, the victim can push a preset button on his or her cell phone (or special device). This will immediately set off an alert to the 112 service, which will immediately track down the victim's location. After that, the police will despatch officers or patrol cars to the location to see if everything is alright.

The SOS Public Relief Service is a free service. Designed to be user-friendly, it also offers customised services based on the features of different communication devices. The user can start using the service just by registering some personal information which will be stored in the police database.

The service consists of three categories ― “one-touch SOS” for general mobile phones, “112 App” for smart phones, and “U-Relief Service” for U-Relief terminals (specially designed communication devices). 

Our Ministry has developed the “SOS Public Relief Service”, utilizing mobile devices such as smartphones to report accidents and crimes to the police. This service is currently on a pilot program and planned for nationwide implementation to protect vulnerable groups, in particular women and children.

To prevent any abuse of the system, children were taught in schools about the consequences of doing so. In addition, to promote the use of this system, children in the low-income group, who cannot afford mobile phones and the monthly fees, were given U-Relief terminals. 


Process of implementation

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security was the lead agency for the national effort to plan and implement this service. As the issue of public (and children's) safety cuts across several jurisdictions, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology were also roped in to provide their respective policy inputs.

Secondly, during the drawing up of the system blueprint, opinions and suggestions were sought from civic groups and non-governmental organisations  which were related to public safety. In this way, an inclusive approach was adopted such that every stakeholder has an opportunity to contribute to the planning of this service. For example, the civic groups recommended the creation of a database which comprised of the contact details of parents/guardians. This can help the police to work with parents/guardians in better securing the welfare of children. 

Alternatively, there were also some initial concerns about privacy issues. To assuage these concerns, the government gave a firm commitment that the information is strictly for public safety purposes and will be secured in the police database.

Thirdly, the private sector, mainly the communications companies such as SKT, KT and LGU+ were also roped in. They planned an instrumental role in ensuring the technical success of the service. Working for free, these companies volunteered their services in providing technical solutions and the development of applications that can be used on mobile phones. Moreover, they also worked on improving the location tracking technology.

Korea SOS

Benefits of the service

After such intensive consultations, the SOS Public Relief Service was finally introduced in April 2011. It was first launched as a pilot service in Gangwon province. It was also made available to children at first.  During the four-month trial period, the government and communication companies were able to iron out any technical problems, as well as resolve any unforeseen issues in the reporting process.  The effectiveness of the nascent service was reflected in its role in 13 arrests and rescues during the trial period. 

When the government began to expand the service nationwide in September 2011, the public response was immediate. More than 500,000 people have signed up for the service, including 260,000 elementary school students. According to a recent survey, more than 90% of the public expressed satisfaction in the service, while also noting its use in deterring potential crimes. Moreover, the South Korean media also gave supportive coverage of the service, increasing public awareness about it.

According to the South Korean police, they hoped that not only can this service improve the current crime reporting system, it can also serve as a strong psychological deterrent against potential criminals, who would now have second thoughts about committing offences.


What lies ahead

Given the public embrace of the service, the government is encouraged to expand the service to include disaster prevention and emergency rescues. For example, during a natural disaster like an earthquake or flood, when people can be stranded under buildings or in isolated places, this service can become a useful tool to inform rescuers of his or her location.

All in all, the SOS Public Relief Service is a good example of how a society can come together to address a growing social concern, work with one another to overcome various difficulties so that everyone can benefit from the outcome of the communal effort.