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Cops crack down with ‘I pee’ checks

by Debito Arudou

My blog has been getting periodic pings about rumblings in Roppongi: Tokyo cops cleaning out pesky foreign touts before Olympic inspectors see them; the U.S. Embassy warning Americans to stay away from the area after reports of drugged drinks and thefts.

The latter was particularly embarrassing (coming from the Americans, of all people) given Japan’s reputation for having the world’s safest streets. So police have begun reasserting their control, cracking down on — you guessed it — foreigners. And where might you find them? You guessed that too.

I heard about police raids in Roppongi in May and June. But now they are going beyond ID checks for visa overstayers. Regular customers have been apprehended for drinking while foreign, bundled into police vans and shuttled off to HQ for urine tests for drugs. According to their associates, those testing positive for controlled substances have been deported.

What triggered this drugs dragnet? A few months ago, several sumo wrestlers (Japanese and otherwise) were discovered possessing and puffing marijuana. Then it turned up in universities and rugby teams, and suddenly reefer madness was toking its toll on Japan’s youth. Some reeferers referred the cops to foreign dealers in — where else? — Roppongi.

This justified a budget for new trooper toys. An alert Debito.org reader sent in an article reporting that the National Police Agency bought 78 spectrometers in May from Thermo Fischer Scientific Inc. designed for quick drug analysis.

Back to the Roppongi smoke-out: Witnesses told Debito.org they saw foreigners being rounded up at bar exits for a p-ss take. However, few people who looked Japanese were detained, they said.

Of course, if cops are looking for the dealers (as opposed to users) who corrupted our youth, I’m not sure how a tinkle test would uncover them. But never mind — the police have to do something, or at least be seen to be doing something.

But watch the policy creep beyond suspected dope dens. Another blog reader, motorbiking at sunrise to a Roppongi dojo in April, said that patrolling cops ignored him parking until he took off his helmet. Then they made a beeline and demanded to search his luggage compartment. “I hear that marijuana is pretty popular in Canada,” one cop commented after finding out he was Canadian, implying that he was possibly carrying the demon weed. Finally, they had him reach for the sky while they searched his pockets.

Yet another reader reported that he was approached last March in Roppongi Hills by a young trainee cop who demanded his bag for inspection. Explicitly accusing him of carrying drugs and knives, moreover talking down to him like he was “a child or a mental incompetent,” the cub cop kept snarling until his handler intervened. Seeing their prey was a Hanshin Tigers fan ,they let him go. Phew. Go Tigers!

But the metastasis of the surveillance society is only just beginning. Reports from Tokyo’s Shibuya, Yoyogi and Akihabara indicate that even Japanese are being targeted for these surly satchel searches. Meanwhile, The Japan Times reported on June 26 that spy cameras — staffed by neighborhood associations, not trained professionals — are being installed in 15 other residential areas nationwide. So don’t expect this to be a temporary anticrime campaign.

Again, as I’ve argued before (Zeit Gist, July 8, 2008), this is a case of “gaijin as guinea pig.” Laws bent to target foreigners will ultimately be stretched to target everyone else.

And here’s what’s bent: By law, cops need a warrant to do a bag inspection, not to mention take a urine sample.

Last Wednesday, I telephoned Azabu Police Station to find out how this circle was being squared. I was connected to a Mr. Teshima, who was in no mood for questions. After identifying myself by name and affiliation (that of human rights group FRANCA), he repeatedly refused to give me straight answers.

I did get Mr. Teshima to confirm that the police were subjecting foreigners to urine tests. But, he averred, not only foreigners. When I asked him to explain the criteria for deciding whom to stop and detain, he refused to elaborate.

When I asked if a warrant for a pee check was necessary, he said it depended on the situation. What kind of situation? Not gonna say, but if the individual agrees to submit to this wee procedure, “we no longer need a warrant.” What happens if they don’t submit? Not gonna say.

When I asked if noncooperation could lead to arrest, he said he was now too busy to answer any more questions. When I asked him what his position was in the police department, he enforced his right to remain silent and hung up on me.

In a separate inquiry, The Japan Times wrung these clarifications out of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Public Relations Center: 1. Police raids on businesses only happen after a reliable tip; 2. Urine testing is not a new procedure, and has always been done whenever necessary; 3. Only those who look wasted on drugs will be asked for a urine sample; 4. Urine samples are only ever taken after persuasion, never under threat.

Sure. But something still stinks. Much ink has been expended exploring how the Japanese police lack accountability. They can detain you for “voluntary questioning” with or without probable cause for days at a time, convert that into an arrest for up 23 days, carry out unrecorded grillings that famously crack detainees into making false confessions, interpret the constitutionally guaranteed right to remain silent as a sign of guilt, and otherwise just make your life miserable in detention if you don’t “cooperate.”

The police, however, as Mr. Teshima demonstrated, often see themselves as under no compulsion to cooperate — even when you need information to make your rights and their legal obligations clear.

If this were a contractual relationship, and an agent took advantage of your ignorance to lock you into a punitive agreement, it would be considered fraud. But police hold themselves to a different standard. Never mind informed consent — your ignorance becomes leverage for them to detain, arrest and imprison you.

Thus, without checks and balances, things stretch to their logical extremes. Random street stoppages have crept beyond simple ID checks into “I pee” checks. These are clearly more invasive, more intrusive, and more easily mixed up (urine samples require scientific precision — they can be spilled or misplaced; it’s not as if they have photo ID). They are in any case beyond the current bounds of the law regarding search and seizure without a warrant.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that drugs are a bad thing and that people must obey narcotics laws. But there are also issues of law enforcement here that must be obeyed.

These checks take on added importance since it seems these “random” pee searches, done without accountability or appeal to counteract “false positives” (such as from poppy seeds, nasal sprays, medicines for colds, migraines and allergies, and even tonic water), may in fact not be all that random after all. One mistake and your life in Japan as you know it is over.

So let me enlighten. This is the law:

Police cannot search your person, property or possessions without a warrant. Ask for one: “Reijo ga arimasu ka?”

If they threaten to take you to a police box for questioning, refuse and don’t move. Police cannot force you to go anywhere without a formal arrest (taiho).

But be careful. Do not raise your voice. And never ever touch the cop, or they could arrest you for “obstruction of duty.” This is why sometimes you see street standoffs between cops and questionees during which nobody moves or talks until somebody gets tired and goes home.

Know your rights by checking out www.debito.org/whattodoif.html, or read more in our “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants.” But don’t assume the police will give the public the same cooperation they demand from the public. Accountability gets in the way of their modus operandi. Laws protecting people against invasive procedures interfere with keeping the streets safe from foreigners.

Anyway, shouldn’t Roppongi also be protesting this? Inconveniencing customers to this extent without probable cause is bad for business.

It’s also bad for society in general. What happens to a small minority sets precedents for the rest of the population. Ignore this at your peril.

Debito Arudou is the author of “Japanese Only.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp