Staff writer
“I knew that the same things would surely be repeated in the future,” Kenji Chiyomaru said. “You cannot expect self-cleansing action by police.”
Since he launched “Human rights dial 110” in 1979, Chiyomaru, a civic activist who lives in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, has been helping people having trouble with police and exposing the wrongdoings of officers.
The assault against a drunken day laborer by police inside a police substation in Kawasaki in December 1992, which was later reported in the media, was first brought to light by him.
Six months later, the case resulted in Kanagawa Prefectural Police officers being punished. Three of them, who initially claimed they never participated in the beating, were later given suspended prison terms for their roles in the assault.
However, this severe case of violence by on-duty officers against a civilian, of which high-ranking officials claimed they were never informed, did not lead to any substantial reform of the police supervisory system.
Another opportunity to make reforms was presented by the recent Kanagawa police scandals, the main one resulting in a former head of the prefectural force and senior officers in its internal supervisory section being indicted over the 1996 coverup of an officer’s drug use.
The scandal prompted the Yokohama Bar Association last month to propose creation of an independent supervisory body to monitor police.
“To prevent such misconduct, which ought to be referred to as organized crime, from being repeated … it is not sufficient for police to merely carry out internal reforms, including educational programs, strengthening supervision or listening to a few outside opinions,” a statement from the bar group said in the name of its president, Hideo Okamoto.
The bar association also demanded that the scope of the prefectural information disclosure ordinance be expanded to cover police information, which is currently exempt.
Although every prefectural force has an in-house supervisory section, the Kanagawa scandal proved that such systems never really function effectively, the association said. The head of the supervisory section is usually not very high in the police hierarchy, and the section is not given any special power to perform its role free from interference by colleagues.
“At the very least, outside personnel should join the supervisory section,” said Akira Morita, vice president of the association, adding that retired prosecutors, retired judges and scholars with specialized knowledge might be candidates as civilian inspectors.
Chiyomaru proposed an independent supervisory office with strong authority like that of the Fair Trade Commis
sion, which is under the direct control of the prime minister.
He stressed that police supervisors should be specialists, as opposed to the current system, wherein they are treated like any other officer and subject to routine personnel shuffles.
But Haruo Katayama, chief inspection officer at the National Police Agency, claimed the biggest problem with the Kanagawa scandal was that the Prefectural Public Safety Commission, which supervises the prefectural police force, was not informed of the misdeeds.
The NPA recently announced proposals to beef up the supervisory system that would revise the Police Law for the first time in its near half-century history. The revision is to be submitted to the next ordinary Diet session.
The proposed reform features provisions giving the national and prefectural public safety commissions the authority to order top police officials to launch internal investigations.
Public safety commissions, made up of members of the public appointed by prefectural governors, were established by the 1954 Police Law to allow for “democratic control of the police.” They were meant to prevent the abuse of police power, which was widespread in prewar and wartime Japan.
However, the commissions’ role is effectively ceremonial because the current Police Law does not provide them with any concrete administrative powers. Members usually are local celebrities.
The NPA also proposed that prefectural police chiefs be required to report to their respective public safety commission before punishing police for misdeeds.
Katayama said he thinks the reporting system would be effective in preventing further coverups.
However, he brushed aside the idea of an independent supervisory body, saying in
spectors must be “people who are best familiar with internal affairs.”
In this sense, Katayama said he believes the current in-house supervisory office can best handle matters “swiftly and certainly.”
But he also noted such a system only works “as long as the prefectural police head doesn’t err,” obviously referring to Motoo Watanabe, ex-chief of the Kanagawa force charged in the drug coverup.
In the recent revelations of police misconduct, experts pointed to a nationwide moral degeneracy by police. Katayama said most problems are basically attributable to the qualities of individual officers, claiming that a growing number of senior officers lack competence correspondent to their rank.
However, Chiyomaru said that what is needed is a drastic structural reform as well as greater disclosure of police information.
Police traditionally have a fatherly image with the public, he said, noting that the long-prevailing image of police infallibility was shattered by the recent scandals.
“You better not rely on the human conscience,” he said. “It is the same for us, too, isn’t it?”

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