Inside the Japanese Police Department

Japan Heat: Inside the Japanese Police Department

by Chris Cutts

The Japanese have an almost unique system of policing which despite its embrace of high tech in most of its processess, is also a strangely quaint mirroring of the British police prior to the 1980’s. (From which I will draw comparisons for which I apologize to North American readers).

Japan has the lowest crime rate of any of the major industrialized countries in the world. Coupled with a detection rate which is the envy of the civilized world, it would appear on paper that Japan is a utopia with regards to crime.

Japan Heat — Japanese Crime Figures

But all is not as it seems. The Japanese have their own novel profile of crimes. Indeed this skews their crime figures and makes it difficult to discern the true crime situation in Japan.

Japan does not recognise or account for other problems which would drastically change the paper figures and bring a more realistic picture of the situation.

In Fujisawa Kanagawa, where a policeman was fired after he attempted to stop a Japanese bike gang member with a long stick. The motorcycle the gang member was driving crazily, crashed into a fence – the gang member was injured. If the gang member had obeyed the law and simply stopped as required by the policeman, no injury would have occurred. Still the police officer was fired? Why? For doing his job? Trying to stop someone who was breaking the law? Fujisawa citizens were up in arms, they presented a petition in support of the police man; but still he was not reinstated.

Story Continued:

The situation with regard to the Japanese not recognising an offense is best exemplified by the chikans (chikan is the Japanese word for pervert. They sexually assault people–usually they assault women.–editor) who would in any other country would be doing at least 3-5 years for persistant sexual assault remembering that sexual assault is but one step down from rape but because of Japan’s extreme “one of the boys” culture it is recognized as a crime only on the statute book.

(Chikan often pay money to the victim if caught to say sorry–these days they do some prison time I believe, but it isn`t as long as in the West.–editor)

In Yokohama, where the boryokudan (or Yakuza) were asked for help to control protests over the renewal of the Japanese security treaty with the USA, in the 1960s. Riots would have been embarrassing and might have interrupted sensitive negotiations between Japan and America. The Yakuza saw to it that they didn`t occur in the port city. This has been referred to in a number of publications.

Story Continued:

The other issue which is missing from Japanese figures is that civil law is outside the perview of the police. It is handled by other agencies and does not appear in the end figures.

So why has this situation arisen? And the answer is probably in the structure of Japanese law enforcement which was founded on the basic model created by Sir Robert Peel. Law enforcement in Japan has kept to its basic original structure, principles and biases more than any of its contemporary bureaucratic structures in modern societies inheriting both its strengths and its weaknesses.

Japan Heat — The Koban

The basic unit is the police box(“koban” in Japanese), in urban areas and “chuzaisho” in rural areas.

The system is very similar to the original peel principal of the section house with a compliment of 12 uniformed officers with a sergeant(junsa-bucho) and 3 policemen(junsa) on a four shift rotation.

They work the local beats and in my opinion give the Japanese police one of its greatest strengths and a lesson to other modern police that you can learn more about your area on foot or on a bicycle than driving round at high speeds trying to look cool in a patrol car.

Japan Heat — Junkai-ren

The junkai-ren which is probably the best idea to come out of Japanese law enforcement in that this twice a year residence survey fullfills in one swoop the two main functions of the uniformed patrol officer–that of crime prevention and collation of local information.

However the main weakness is that it takes probably two years before an officer really gets to know his area.

Japan Heat & British Bobbies

The police stations are similar to British divisional stations and are the headquarters for the local kobans and home for officers of the more specialized sections who carry out roles such as traffic and criminal detection.

Moreover, they consider themselves on a higher plane and have their own versions of the British nickname “woodentops” to describe uniformed beat officers for their poorer detection rates. Yet that is not uniformed beat officers principal function.

Above these are the ivory towers of the Tokyo metropolitan police department and prefectural police headquarters–the home of the highest ranking officers such as the keishi-sokan(superintendant general of the Tokyo metropolitan department) and keshi-kan(superintendant supervisor) equal to met commissioners and provincial chief constables respectively.

Japan Heat — Problems?

So where do the problems really set in? Firstly when the post war police were set up in 1948 with a new police law the police became limited in their duties; and many social problems other police forces in the world help to tackle come outside the scope of the Japanese police.

This makes the Japanese crime figures look good but does not help solve the problems.

Japan Heat — Training

Secondly another problem with the Japanese police is the training system. It is so class room oriented.

Probably because all officers must be at least high school graduates and 40% have a degree from a four year university.

High school graduates spend one year at police school,three months in field work and then six months in training.

You do not get a coppers nose or the mysterious methods of “the ways and means act” fom a book!

You become a good police officer from experience on the beat.

With the exception of fraud, the last man to be caught by the book was Al Capone.
Japan Heat — Where are the Police women?

Thirdly 98.1% of officers are male,come on chaps that`s why some things don’t get prosecuted because it’s a boys will be boysworld.

A criminal does not discriminate based on sex so why should the police show discrimination?

Female police officers are normally not allowed to carry firearms.

(what do they expect them to use bad language!) and the old predjudice of only limited duties the shame being that nothing deflates the “one of the boys” more than a wpc slapping on the plum duffs (hand cuffs). Women can do the job as well in most cases and better in some.

Finally although extremely polite to outsiders the Japanese attitude to outsiders breaking the law seems strange:

From the killing of Charles Richardson in 1862 (early example of road rage), to demanding and getting suspect marine Kurt K. Billie for trial in a Japanese court when a perfectly good court martial would have been carried out by the USMC.

Although the Japanese government constantly refuses to extradite Japanese citizens for crimes committed abroad but tries them in Japan, the Japanese courts are very partisan at best.

Japan Heat — Oh yes, the thought for the day:

If you ladies have problems with chikans (perverts) on the crowded trains, do not try punching them. There isn’t the room to throw a punch on a crowded train. Try instead to stamp on the top of the ankle joint because

1) it hurts more,

2)you can claim it was an accidental stumble on a moving train,

3).it doesn’t half cramp their style

Japan Heat — Editor: My wife has punched chikans on the trains, and that did put a stop to them. A former teacher at our school also beat one up.

Kurt K. Billie – In Trouble with the Law Again

This time Billie has been arrested in the USA.

Billie was tried and convicted in a Japanese court after being found guilty of burning seven restaurants and bars on Okinawa in two separate arson attacks in January 2001 when he was a 24-year-old Marine lance corporal stationed at Camp Hansen.

At the time, the case compounded the strain between the U.S. military and Okinawa residents over a series of crimes involving American service members. stationed on the island.

Hiroshi Ishikawa-Former Prosecutor

Hiroshi Ishikawa, a former prosecutor, wrote in detail about the abuse of prosecutorial power and the ability to detain suspects in a book titled “Kenji Shikaku.”

Ishikawa himself had been implicated in a case of false confessions before resigning. He says there’s enormous pressure on police and prosecutors to obtain a guilty verdict by any means.

“I was taught that foreigners and gang members have no human rights,” he once told me. “I was taught that winning is everything. And with the de facto power to detain someone who insists they’re innocent all the way up to their trial, we usually win. However, that doesn’t always mean that justice is served.”

-Japan Times


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