Crime rate dips again in Japan

Japan’s relatively low crime rate just got lower. Recently released figures from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development showed that only 1.4 percent of people in Japan had been victims of assault compared with the OECD average of 4.0 percent for annual assault and mugging rates.

Overall Japan was ranked the safest country in the world, with the second- lowest homicide rate after Iceland and the second-lowest assault rate after Canada.

The National Police Agency also recently released a report noting that murders across the country declined 8.8 percent to 939 in 2013. That figure is below 1,000 per year for the first time since World War II. While even one murder is one too many — much less more than 900 — those figures reveal an improvement in one important area.

While the relatively low crime rate is a source of pride for Japan, many problem areas remain. The ratio of arrests to reported crimes fell below 30 percent for the first time in eight years, down 1.9 percentage points to 29.8 percent. Those low figures may be because the Japanese tend to report even the smallest crimes, and certain crimes are hard to investigate and find suspects. Still, the NPA should find ways to ensure that more arrests are made for all reported crimes.

Another problem area is the increasing number of “ore ore sagi” scams, where telephone callers target elderly people claiming to be relatives in urgent need of money. The number of such scams and other fraud cases climbed 10.5 percent to 38,326 in 2013. The scams have continued to increase in number and complexity. The arrest ratio for fraud cases overall declined 8.5 percentage points mainly because the scams are becoming more sophisticated, even involving fake police officers and phony lawyers at times.

The police agency needs to work to increase arrests for all reported crimes, but particularly the increasing number of frauds and scams.

Arrests do not ensure that justice is done, of course, but they are a partial indication of the degree to which safety and justice are pursued. While Japan is doing relatively well compared with other countries in terms of statistics, for victims, statistics do not mean much. Fraud crimes can ruin the finances, and consequently the lives, of the victims.

Japan may be a bit of an anomaly. Even though the economy has been in the doldrums for two decades, the crime rate has not risen the way it often does in countries facing tough times. Still, the National Police Agency needs to take the rising problems with frauds and scams seriously, especially since they are increasing in number and sophistication.