Crime reporting turns murky as cops clam up

by Motoi Ariwaka

Police are increasingly opting not to release names of crime victims, giving rise to fears that criminal cases will become opaque, facts will become obscure and the validity of evidence in doubt.

“If police have concealed investigation mistakes, no one can pursue it (if no one is named),” as one crime victim put it.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet unveiled a basic plan in late December pertaining to crime victims that effectively allows police to withhold their names.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association immediately objected, stating, “Coverage of victims and those around them will become difficult (if they remain anonymous), and there are also fears police will conceal what’s inconvenient for them.”

However, a prefectural police public relations officer said, “We’ve become sensitive (regarding names) and are trying to confirm the intention of victims.”

The Niigata Prefectural Police arrested a man in connection with the theft of scrolls worth 10 million yen in April but did not make public the name or age of the victim, nor the location of the theft.

“The victim wanted to remain anonymous,” the police force said. “If the place of the theft were known, the victim might be subject to having more things stolen.”

The press association protested, saying, “With anonymity, we cannot record the facts.”

Police revealed only that the victim was in his 50s and asked the media to report the location of the crime scene as being in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture, without being more specific.

No prefectural police force will say whether the treatment of releasing real names has changed with the government plan.

However, the National Police Agency called a meeting of public relations officers from across the country in early February, confirmed that “the thinking is unchanged” and asked them to adequately explain to the media about cases in which names are not made public.

In the last several years, the withholding of names has expanded, causing conflicts with the media.

The Tottori Prefectural Police did not identify the hospital were an assistant nurse was arrested for stealing 1 million yen from a patient’s bag last September, saying, “The hospital is also a victim and wants to remain anonymous.”

The hospital later said its request to remain anonymous was only that and not a demand.

In an incident in the city of Wakayama late last year in which three dead babies were found in a condominium, the prefectural police at first did not make public the address, saying disclosure would cause problems for nearby residents.

The police trend of not releasing names is also including crime suspects. The Kagoshima Prefectural Police arrested three people on violations of the Cannabis Control Law in January but did not reveal their names.

“As they were not in custody, we treated them as being part of an investigation on a voluntary basis,” a high-ranking official in the force said.

It was later discovered that one of the three was a son of the president of the Kirishima Municipal Assembly in Kagoshima Prefecture, sparking speculation that police were pressured not to reveal the names, which they denied.

Kenichi Ino, the father of a female university student who was killed in 1999 by a stalker in Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture, said he is strongly opposed to police deciding whether to reveal names, because they “try to conceal everything by their nature.”

The murder of Shiori Ino sparked controversy because the local police had refused to follow up on her and her family’s complaints about stalking and harassment. Their inaction and attempted coverup after her slaying helped lead to establishment of the antistalking law in 2000.

“If police do not make public the names of victims, citing such reasons as ‘the desire of victims’ or ‘trouble to investigations,’ we’re unable to pursue anything,” he said, “especially if police have concealed something that’s inconvenient for them, such as (malfeasance resulting in) scandal.”