The National Police Agency appears more confident about combating the yakuza now that it has revised legislation allowing instant arrests as well as the new organized crime exclusion ordinance at its disposal.
The new law, revised in February, took effect July 26, allowing police to immediately arrest members of designated yakuza groups over illegal acts, including extortion and blackmail. It closed a legal loophole requiring that police first order yakuza to desist from illegal activities, allowing them to effectively evade arrest.
But some argue that the revised law may only prompt underworld groups to move further into the shadows, and that police should strengthen actual law enforcement practices instead.
The first law against organized crime was introduced in 1992 in an effort to close off funding sources for the underworld. As of last October, all 47 prefectures had exclusion ordinances on their books prohibiting private businesses from making deals with the mob.
The number of recognized underworld members nationwide peaked in 1963 and has hovered at around 80,000 for the past 20 years, according to the NPA. In recent years, however, shootings have risen amid turf wars and attempts to extort companies and individuals.
Fukuoka Prefecture, for example, recorded 18 shootings in 2011 that sometimes involved ordinary citizens. It is home to the headquarters of five yakuza syndicates, the most in the nation.
“For the syndicates, it (the 1992 law) didn’t mean anything,” a senior NPA official said on condition of anonymity, acknowledging the loophole in the original legislation.
Under the original law, when yakuza committed crimes, the police had to tell them to stop. The yakuza then merely turned to other targets and repeated the same offenses, effectively with impunity.
In 2011, 2,203 cease and desist orders were issued nationwide, with only 12 arrests made for violating them.
The orders, administrative in nature, could only be issued against individuals, not the syndicates themselves. This just prompted the mobs to rotate their members and continue the shakedowns.
Under the revised law, once a yakuza syndicate is designated and its turf is identified, the police can arrest its members immediately if anyone from the group is engaged in criminal activity in its territory.
“That should do significant damage,” an investigative source said with confidence. He cited an unnamed yakuza as describing the revision as a “super law” against organized crime.
It also enables authorities to go after specific yakuza groups even if they are unable to identify, for example, the specific members who were involved in shootings or other crimes.
But legal experts see this as a flaw.
“This goes against the principle of innocent until proven guilty,” said writer Manabu Miyazaki, adding that crime groups will merely conceal their members’ names.
Apparently reflecting that concern, Fukuoka Gov. Hiroshi Ogawa visited National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara at the NPA in Tokyo on the same day the legislation was enacted.
He urged the government to look into enhancing investigation methods, including easing curbs against the use of eavesdropping in criminal investigations.
Fukuoka has stepped up measures against organized crime. In April 2010, it became the first prefecture to enforce the organized crime ordinance. Since February, it has required building contractors to report any demands made by yakuza to prefectural authorities.
But Fukuoka also has to deal with corruption.
Just a day before the new legislation took effect, the prefectural police arrested a local police officer for allegedly taking bribes from mobsters.
“I want the police to be reliable in protecting the citizens,” said a 55-year-old woman involved in anticrime campaigns in the city of Kitakyushu. “(The arrest) makes me wonder if they are in a position to ask (the public) to cooperate in the campaigns.”