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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #86: September 21, 2004

Attitudes towards the Police in Contemporary Japan - Part Three: Scandals Undermine Public Confidence in the Police

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

While the upswing in crime is one of the primary reasons for a sense of deep dissatisfaction with the police, the force's own conduct is another. The Japanese police have been plagued by various scandals for over a decade, but during 2004 their troubles reached crisis point with a new devastating scandal being uncovered almost every month (see reference articles below).

The crisis began in early February when a former Hokkaido chief superintendent, Koji Harada, confessed that the prefectural police had systematically misappropriated public money into a slush fund by fabricating criminal cases and inventing payments to informants.

Harada urged the Hokkaido police force to admit its wrongdoing and tackle the problem. He told a press conference, "I think this is the last chance for the prefectural police to reform itself. I hope one day officers in the front lines of police activities can again work with their heads held high."

His public comments marked the first time ever an executive police officer had exposed this kind of corruption using his real name and identity. The case sent shockwaves throughout the NPA and other similar scandals were quickly uncovered in the Kyoto, Shizuoka and Fukuoka prefectural police forces.

These cases added to earlier slush fund disclosures in several other regions including Tokyo. Public dissatisfaction with the police reached new heights.

Noriaki Kawamura, Deputy Director of the Police Policy Research Centre at the National Police Academy of Japan, thinks the NPA has now put these kinds of scandals behind it. He says, "Some prefectural police forces got caught up in bad accounting practices. Now, I think this issue has been cleared up and you will not find such misconduct." He optimistically added, "So, now these problems have been sorted out and I think that today people trust the police and they will in the future."

In July, the NPA tried to improve its tarnished image by highlighting an increase in the ratio of solved crimes during 2003. However, almost immediately an extremely embarrassing scandal broke involving the falsification of police crime clearance rates. This revelation completely derailed the NPA's confidence boosting effort.

The media revealed that Hyogo Prefectural Police had falsified hundreds of investigation documents over a two-year period. This was done in an apparent attempt to enhance performance ratings by increasing crime clearance rates. Some officers even fabricated reports on incidents that never even took place. The unfortunate episode cast a serious shadow over the validity of police claims that crime rates were dropping.

Nevertheless, Deputy Director Kawamura believes that the NPA figures are highly reliable and of an international standard. He is adamant that crime clearance rates are actually increasing.

Kawamura says, "We have an international auditor division, so we have checked our data and can compare the performance of our officers [with those in other countries]. I think the system works very well, but sometimes, as in the Hyogo case, there are problems." As a further proof of the figures reliability, he adds, "If an officer does something wrong, I think the media discover this quite easily. So I think the police statistics are very reliable."

Dr. Tom Ellis, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at Portsmouth University, points out that police scandals are also common in other countries and that the current problems of the Japanese police need to be put into context.

Dr. Ellis comments, "In the UK, the police were reformed in the sixties as a result of corruption scandals. The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad was disbanded as a result of a series of scandals in the seventies and eighties, and [more recently] police inaction over the [high-profile] murder of Stephen Lawrence led to large scale reform to ensure that police competence was improved."

However, these kinds of reassurances are highly unlikely to convince a skeptical Japanese public, making the task of Juvenile delinquents Iwao Uruma, the newly appointed Commissioner General of the National Police Agency (NPA), much harder. In fact, until crime rates drastically drop and the police put their own house in order, Japan is likely to remain a nation where confidence in the police is exceptionally low and the Commissioner's stated goal of restoring public trust in his force a distant dream.

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.

(Some parts of this article first appeared in Asia Times Online on 28 August 2004, http://www.atimes.com, and all those sections are republished with permission. Copyright of these sections belongs to Asia Times Online Ltd.)

Reference Articles

Ex-Hokkaido police chief blows whistle over slush fund
Mainchi Shimbun, 10 February 2004

Shizuoka cops admit embezzling millions
Japan Times, 6 March 2004

Cop blows whistle on bogus payouts
Yomiuri Shimbun, 7 March 2004

Hokkaido police chief admits funds scam
Japan Times, 13 March 2004

Hokkaido scandal reveals tight-knit police culture Yomiuri Shimbun, 14 March 2004

Police doled out slush funds at boss' wish
Yomiuri Shimbun, 14 March 2004

Police spent 197 million yen on expenses, dining in FY02
Yomiuri Shimbun, 22 March 2004

NPA: Police scrapped expense info
Yomiuri Shimbun, 19 May 2004

Kyoto Pref. police accounts drained of travel expenses
Yomiuri Shimbun, 30 June 2004

Hyogo police faked reports in bid to shine
Japan Times, 1 July 2004

Kyoto police fabricated investigation expenses
Yomiuri Shimbun, 31 July 2004

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