Police plan light-touch, high-tech approach to Tokyo 2020 security


The Metropolitan Police Department is planning an unprecedented scale of security for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games, with the help of police officers from across Japan.

At the same time, the Tokyo police aim to make better use of female officers and private-sector technologies to take a light-touch approach to security that does not spoil the festive atmosphere of the quadrennial sports event.

For the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the MPD mobilized a total of about 105,000 police officers.

However, scale of the department’s 2020 security arrangements is certain to surpass this in light of modern-day terrorist threats facing Japan, such as Islamic State militants.

“We will prepare to be on the highest possible alert, working in collaboration with overseas intelligence agencies,” a senior MPD official said. “But we don’t want to provide the kind of heavy-handed security by gun-carrying personnel that was seen at the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.”

As part of its action plan for the 2020 Games, the MPD will aim to promote “light-touch” security through the intensive use of female riot forces. Specifically, it is considering an 80-strong all-women riot squad, according to department officials, that could be used for tasks such as crowd control around games venues.

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the MPD deployed female officers to the athlete’s village.

Currently, women account for some 8.2 percent of all police officers at the MPD. The department initially aimed to raise this to 10 percent by fiscal 2020, but has since decided to bring forward the target by two years.

“We will actively promote the recruitment of women as part of preparations for the Olympics,” an MPD official said.

As a centerpiece of security preparations utilizing private-sector technologies, the MPD is looking at deploying an unmanned airship equipped with sophisticated surveillance capabilities. Able to remain at a fixed point for a long time, the airship is expected to be used to take photos of areas around event venues for police stationed at ground level.

By next spring, a major security company is aiming to develop a 15-meter-long airship that can fly at an altitude of about 100 meters. It will have a camera capable of identifying the hair color, clothing and faces of people on the ground.

The MPD is considering using one for a security trial at a large-scale sports event in Tokyo as early as next year.

At the Tokyo Marathon 2015 in February, seen as a test for security at the Tokyo Olympic marathon races, the MPD used 1,100 cameras, including temporarily installed devices and roadside cameras for private-sector use.

The Tokyo police are considering the use of private-sector face-recognition technology for identifying suspicious individuals based on information on terrorists on international wanted lists, from data registered with the surveillance camera system.

“We hope to provide effective and elegant security by using sophisticated technologies,” a senior official of the MPD said. “By mixing hard-line and moderate methods, we also hope to honor the atmosphere of omotenashi hospitality unique to Japan.”