A former deputy chief of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s task force on public safety is questioning some of the projects the metropolitan government has been promoting.
Hiroshi Kubo, who released a book titled “Chian wa Hontouni Akkashiteirunoka?” (“Is Public Safety Really Deteriorating?”) in June, said such steps could make people excessively wary, encourage prejudice against foreigners and benefit those in authority like police.
Some analysts say these concerns are entirely reasonable and have urged authorities to work harder to get rid of factors threatening public order, including the widening income disparity, instead of simply telling people to brace themselves for possible crimes.
Kubo, 59, was a senior metropolitan bureaucrat. He led various crime prevention projects as a division chief in charge of public safety in the governor’s headquarters from August 2003 until he quit in March 2005.
Kubo said he felt “embarrassed” when he involved himself in or led projects he said were aimed at prompting people to think the community was becoming more dangerous and to rely on the authorities, especially police, to deal with the situation.
The “safe town” campaign helps boost various businesses related to crime prevention and create new entities and government affiliations.
“It means police officers and police bureaucrats can get more ‘amakudari’ posts,” Kubo said, referring to the business practice whereby current and retired bureaucrats land jobs in entities the government oversees or is closely related to.
He said he wrote the book hoping it would cause people to think “in a more level-headed manner” about what the authorities try to promote.
Ensuring public safety was a key pledge Ishihara made before he was re-elected governor in April 2003.
The metropolitan government boosted its budget for crime prevention projects nearly 30-fold to 8.7 billion yen in the fiscal year that began in April 2004.
Projects financed included those aimed at watching non-Japanese more closely and more security cameras in public spaces.
The metropolitan government encourages people to form patrols to find “suspicious people” in their neighborhoods, buy goods to protect children from possible attackers and receive crime alerts that local authorities send to individuals’ cell phones.
A 2004 government survey indicated 87 percent of Japanese felt public safety had deteriorated in the past decade. Behind the concern were reports of a spate of illegal acts committed by youths and foreigners who were overstaying their visas, the poll suggested.
Analysts say people have become much more wary since the 2001 massacre of eight children in an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture by a knife-wielding intruder that traumatized the surviving classmates and teachers.
Kubo also questioned the rhetoric authorities indulge in when warning people against crimes committed by non-Japanese.
An annual report by the National Police Agency in fiscal 2005 said police in 2004 cracked down on 21,842 foreign visitors over alleged illicit acts, up 9.2 percent from a year earlier, in 47,128 cases, up 16 percent.
The total number of foreigners who entered Japan in the year rose by 18 percent to 6.757 million.
Kubo indicated that the ratio of people breaking the law in any given group is likely to increase as the size of that group grows. The figures in the police report do not mean non-Japanese are in general more likely to commit crimes compared with Japanese, he said.
“But the authorities tried to highlight only one side of what such figures suggest,” Kubo said. “I’m not saying such crimes are not increasing. . . . But it is wrong to easily say people in this category are good and those in that category are bad.”
Criminologist Koichi Hamai doubts that people’s concerns about suburban crimes really originate from their own experiences.
In a recent poll by a team headed by Hamai, a professor at Ryukoku University’s law school, more than 90 percent of respondents said they feel crime has increased in the past two years nationwide. But asked if they feel similarly about their own neighborhood, the ratio sank to 27 percent, while 64 percent said the rate has not changed.
The 2004 government survey also indicated 84 percent of people became interested in public safety because “TV and newspapers often cover” the topic, far outnumbering the second most common answer — that the issue has become a topic of conversation with relatives and friends.
Much research has indicated that although the economy is showing signs of recovery, the gap in people’s incomes and wealth has widened and a belief that only the strong survive has spread under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who took office in 2001.
Hamai said, for example, that many youths have more difficulty landing jobs after leaving reformatory institutions than in the past.
“It leads to an increase in repeat offenders. . . . That’s a sign of danger. Inaction by the government could really cause public safety to deteriorate,” he said.
Sociologist Kazuya Serizawa said a change in public reactions to heinous crimes targeting children, especially after the 2001 school incident, suggests many communities have become more guarded than in the past.
“In the past, people discussed what was behind the emergence of such a cruel culprit or said ‘We may have to review the problems in our community’ even though they were shocked,” Serizawa said.
“But recently, people immediately talk about how they can kick suspicious people out of the community. . . . It seems difficult to stop this trend.”
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