Poll finds growing crime concern

But official stats don't back up placing blame on foreigners

by Reiji Yoshida

More than 85 percent of respondents to a recent survey believe Japan is less safe than it was a decade ago, and a majority cited an increase in illegal immigrants as a major reason, the government said Saturday.

Officials at the National Policy Agency said the sentiments indicated in the survey are the result of a perceived surge in crimes committed by foreigners.

But statistics show that the vast majority of crimes go unsolved, leaving it an open question whether the rise in cases involving foreigners is primarily to blame for the sharp overall increase in reports of criminal offenses.

The survey results, released by the Cabinet Office, are based on interviews conducted in July of 3,000 Japanese adults, of whom 2,097, or 69.9 percent, gave valid responses.

Among the valid respondents, 86.6 percent said they believe Japan is less safe than it was 10 years ago.

From a list of possible reasons why, 54.4 percent of the pollees blamed an increase in foreigners who are in the country illegally. Multiple answers were permitted.

The second-most common response was insufficient education of youths at 47.0 percent, followed by a diminishing sense of community at the local level at 43.8 percent, the flood of various kinds of information affecting public morals at 40.6 percent and deteriorating economic conditions at 38.6 percent.

Asked what kind of people or organizations they fear could commit crimes affecting themselves or people they know, 49.4 percent cited people who are emotionally unstable or easily become angry, followed by criminal organizations of foreigners and illegal immigrants at 43.2 percent.

“We think the survey shows people have a fair judgment of the current security situation,” an official in charge at the Cabinet Office said in summing up the survey results.

Crime statistics indeed suggest that Japan, once touted as the safest country in the world, is much less secure than it was a decade ago.

The number of Penal Code offenses reported or known to police surged to 2.79 million in 2003 from 1.78 million in 1994, according to the NPA. The figures do not include immigration violations or drug crimes, which are dealt with under special laws.

The surge is remarkable because the figure had consistently hovered around 1.4 million to 1.5 million from the 1950s until the end of the 1980s, according to the NPA.

There is no way of knowing the nationality of perpetrators in crimes unless they are cleared by police.

In fact, of the 2.79 million criminal cases known or reported to police in 2003, only 648,319, or 23.2 percent, were cleared.

Still, NPA officials pointed out a surge in the number of cleared cases involving foreign suspects.

Of the 648,319 Penal Code offenses in 2003 cleared by police, 27,258 involved foreign suspects, or 4.2 percent of the total. In absolute terms, the figure is roughly double the 13,321 in 1994, according to the NPA.

“The absolute number of crimes involving foreign suspects increased over the past 10 years, which is reflected in public sentiment (in the survey results),” said a NPA official in charge of crime statistics.

Meanwhile, the number of Penal Code offenses involving Japanese suspects cleared by police fell to 621,061 in 2003 from 754,523 in 1994.

This is not proof of a decline in the number of crimes by Japanese, because the total number of cases that police were able to clear decreased from 767,844 to 648,319 during the same period, with a vast number of reported crimes left unresolved.