Jul 1, 2016

News: Neglected - Statutes come and go for 2,270 criminal cases in Osaka Prefecture

In a week when Osaka Prefecture revealed that the statute of limitations has come and gone for 2,270 criminal cases, we take a look at the nature of policing in Japan. 

News: Neglected - Statutes come and go for 2,270 criminal cases in Osaka Prefecture photo

How does police presence in Japan compare to that in your country? For this writer, compared to back home, Japan’s police maintain a pretty persistent presence, so much so, that any aura of threat, fear, or authority has long since dissipated. They’re just there, everyday, like the young hairstylists at the bottom of the rung, handing out flyers for their employer every time I walk up the step to the train station.  

Ominous authority is washed away when you see local officers doing the rounds on their mamacharis. In this setting, they appear like a character from Postman Pat, whose highlight of the day might be helping some old lady’s cat get down from a tree. 

In a more ideal world, this is the way we would want it to be, I suppose. A police force based on prevention, which maintains an accessible presence for those times when you can’t figure out how to get to where you need to be. When we look closer at Japan’s policing, this appears to be where the country thinks it is. All is geared up to prevention, achieved by sheer numbers that reach the point of saturation.  

In large part, compared to back home at least, Japan does a pretty sterling job at preventing people from being … naughty. Crime is at its lowest since WWII, and for the expat, Japan’s urban ‘hoods’ are about as threatening as Disneyland. How much of this is down to policing, and how much down to schooling and the nation’s emphasis on not upsetting ‘the collective’ is a debate for another time.  

Gaping flaws in the system are often exposed, though, when someone does go off the rails, and decisive action, investigation, and execution of the law is required. The resulting panic would be comical were it not for the terrible events that caused it.

A brutal case in point is in police handling of the Lindsay Hawker case. Hawker, an English teacher from the UK, was murdered by Japanese man, Tatsuya Ichihashi, in Chiba. On the day that police went to question Ichihashi (March 26, 2009) he managed to escape his apartment and evade a team of nine officers, in his bare feet while carrying a rucksack. Ichihashi was finally apprehended on November 10, 2009. In over two years on the run, he was able to work for an Osaka construction company for 14 months, as well as book himself in for plastic surgery on several occasions. All this played out not only in Japan, but also in front of the news-watching population of Britain, gob smacked at the scale of incompetence. At one point during the investigation/pursuit, Japanese police suggested Ichihashi may have committed suicide. Some parties suspected this to be a ploy on behalf of authorities so as they could drop the case and avoid further public (domestic and international) scrutiny. 

So it is we read news from JIJI PRESS today with a mixture of dismay and astonishment. Police in Osaka Prefecture have revealed that the statute of limitations has come and gone for 2,270 criminal cases. Cases that were neglected by over 90% of police stations in the prefecture. 

Of these unprocessed cases, 632 involved charges of theft, 10 for murder, and 120 for rape.  

The article also talks of 8,345 pieces of evidence found in cardboard boxes left in boiler rooms and locker rooms. The 2,270 cases cover the period between 1975 and 2012. According to the article in JIJI, In 302 cases, the police obtained information that could lead to arrests but they failed to clear the cases because investigations hit snags.

Be assured though people, the police have said they will use something called a ‘computer system’ to better manage evidence and documents so that they might prevent the neglection of criminal cases in the future.  

This apparent weakness on the part of police to take action and get things done, after the fact, is perhaps not exclusive to them. The need for consultation, discussion, permission, documentation, a final stamp of authority, and ultimately the fear of acting on individual instinct could be said to prevent swift action across many facets of Japanese society. Oddly enough though, maybe it’s the same thing that prevents much of the potential chaos and disorder in the first place.  

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