The number of crimes reported to police in the first half of this year declined 4.5 percent from a year earlier to 1,277,872 cases, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The figure, which excludes traffic accidents involving professional negligence, marked the second straight decline for the January-June period, having fallen last year for the first time in eight years.

The number of serious crimes reported — murder, theft, arson, rape, abduction and indecent assault — also fell 2.8 percent from a year earlier, when it had marked a record high, to 10,972 cases.

But serious crimes during the period still exceeded 10,000 cases for the second consecutive year and burglaries increased 1.0 percent.

“Data do not necessarily indicate any sustainable downtrend,” an NPA official said. “The crime situation in Japan is still serious.”

Of all crimes in the first half, the rate of arrest and referral to prosecutors came to 24.6 percent, covering 314,378 cases, up 2.9 points from a year earlier.

Thefts numbered 991,643, down 8.9 percent, accounting for 77.6 percent of the total.

But nonviolent crimes shot up 47.2 percent to 46,040 cases due to a steep rise in frauds in which perpetrators telephone their targets, usually elderly, and identify themselves as kin. using familiar terms and asking that money be quickly deposited into a designated bank account in order to settle some concocted urgent matter.

The number of these “It’s me” frauds in the first half came to 6,284, close to the total for the whole of last year, and some 5.78 billion yen was swindled, exceeding the 4.32 billion yen for the whole of 2003.

Arrests covered 133 people in 537 cases in the six-month period, a sharp increase from 58 people in 178 cases for the whole of last year.

Foreigners were either arrested or referred to prosecutors in a record 17,162 criminal cases in the first half, up 37.2 percent from a year earlier.

Among street crimes, attacks on vending machines, vehicle burglaries and robberies declined, while abductions increased.

Police identified 62,458 juveniles over age 14 as crime suspects in the first half, down 1.1 percent from a year earlier.

Those identified as murder, robbery, arson or rape suspects numbered 809 cases, down 26.7 percent. But those identified in fraud and similar crimes increased 46.8 percent to 543 people.

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