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Last year saw a record 2.74 million Penal Code violations, excluding traffic offenses, up 12 percent from 2000, but the arrest rate fell to a postwar low of 19.8 percent, the government reported Tuesday, adding that although foreigners committed a small percentage of the crimes, their offenses were models for Japanese offenders.

The number of Penal Code offenses was at a record high for the sixth consecutive year, according to the 2002 white paper on crime, compiled by the Justice Ministry’s Research and Training Institute.

The total number of criminal offenses exceeded 3.58 million in 2001, up 10 percent, while the arrest rate for all criminal offenses was 38.8 percent, down 3.9 percentage points from a year earlier, it says.

Some 2.34 million cases were theft-related, the white paper shows.

A record 1.196 million suspects were placed under arrest in 2001, up 35,755 from the previous year, but the arrest rate was overwhelmed by the surge in the number of Penal Code violations, according to the report.

While Japan is considered one of the safest industrialized nations, the rapid decline in the arrest rate shows this sense of security is threatened and authorities cannot afford to be overly optimistic, the report says.

“People are becoming more and more concerned about the increase in violent crimes like robbery, which can happen to them in their everyday life,” Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama said after submitting the report to the Cabinet on Tuesday. “It is an urgent and important task for criminal and judicial authorities to cope with such crimes, and the Justice Ministry will step up efforts to realize more effective criminal policies.”

The 2002 crime report focuses on nine categories of violent crime — robbery, inflicting injury, assault, intimidation, extortion, rape, indecency, breaking and entering homes, and property damage — reflecting an increase in such crimes.

Violent crimes accounted for about 7.4 percent of all criminal offenses in 2001, but the pace of increase has been rapid. In 2000, cases of violent crimes were up 52.6 percent from the previous year, slowing slightly to a year-on-year increase of 40 percent in 2001.

Such crimes can inflict physical and psychological damage on the general public and contribute to a sense of fear and anxiety, according to the white paper.

The report points out a “qualitative change” in crime trends and cites cases including murders, and picking locks and robbing safes at financial institutions.

The report notes that more Japanese are turning to crime, but also reiterates concerns about crimes such as robbery and murder committed by foreigners. While accounting for only a small percentage of all crimes, offenses by foreigners, including lock-picking and robbery, serve as a “model” for Japanese criminals, according to the report.

It attributes the recent rise in violent crimes to a decline in crime prevention functions traditionally seen in the home, school and local community. Crime is no longer an urban problem and social bonds are weakening, it says.

The white paper calls on local communities, authorities and private-sector crime prevention groups to jointly work to establish a safe society.

The government has a limited capacity to deal with the increasingly complicated and diversified crimes seen amid socioeconomic changes, the report says.

Revisions for overseas

The Justice Ministry will submit to the Diet during the session that begins in January a bill to revise the Penal Code so that it can be applied to murder and other serious crimes committed against Japanese nationals overseas, Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama said Tuesday.

The current Penal Code is only applied to suspects overseas in a handful of crimes that are considered damaging to Japan’s legal interests, including insurrections and counterfeiting.

In view of the recent rise in felonies involving Japanese citizens overseas due to more cross-border travel, Moriyama said her ministry is considering ways to be able to punish those who are responsible for such major crimes perpetrated against Japanese overseas.

Moriyama said the revised law would enable Japanese authorities to act promptly on such criminal cases, citing a case in April in which a Japanese sailor was allegedly killed by two Filipino colleagues on a Panamanian-flagged tanker.

Japanese authorities could not probe the case and had to hand the suspect over to Panama because it had jurisdiction over the incident, which reportedly occurred on the high seas.

If the Penal Code can be applied to suspects overseas, Japanese investigative authorities will be able to arrest them if they enter Japan.

However, if such suspects remain overseas, Japan will need to seek their extradition, as it does today.

Japan can directly ask for South Korea and the United States to extradite suspects as it has extradition treaties with them.

As for other countries, Japan needs to ask them to confirm the whereabouts of the suspects via Interpol first, and then hand them over through diplomatic channels.

Asked if the revised law might be applied to cases such as terrorism and the abduction of Japanese nationals overseas, Moriyama said she expects suspects in such cases to fall under the jurisdiction of the revised law.

The proposed legislation will be referred to the ministry’s Legislative Council next month, the minister said.

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