Japan is struggling to secure police officers ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics because potential applicants are showing a preference for private-sector work as the economy picks up.
The number of police applicants in fiscal 2014 dropped by nearly half to 128,035, compared with fiscal 2003, when it hit a 20-year peak, National Police Agency officials said.
The sharp drop reflects the increased popularity of corporate work and the dwindling number of children, according to prefectural police departments.
NPA officials said people who want to work in public safety tend to apply for firefighting positions instead.
Alarmed by the situation, the NPA has, in a rare move, ordered prefectural police departments to strengthen their recruitment campaigns.
Of the 128,035 who applied to take the police recruitment exam in fiscal 2014 ended in March, only 96,802 actually took it, falling below 100,000 for the first time since fiscal 2003. Finding another job was the main reason people skipped the exam.
The number of successful applicants remained roughly unchanged at around 15,000, the agency said.
“The downtrend shows no sign of bottoming out and this is a serious matter of concern,” the NPA said in a notice to prefectural police departments last year. “It would be difficult to recruit good human resources with our conventional approach.”
In fiscal 2014, the ratio of test -takers to test-passers was 6.1 to 1 on average, compared with 12.6 to 1 in fiscal 2003.
Of the 47 prefectures, the ratio stood below 5 to 1 in 19 prefectures, with Fukui in last place with ratio of 3.1 to 1.
About 10,000 police officers have been retiring annually since fiscal 2006, and that pace is expected to continue until fiscal 2016.
In the meantime, Japan has raised the maximum number of officers to be hired across the country by more than 10,000 from the fiscal 2003 level to boost public security. There are plans to further increase the number of officers by around 3,000 over a three-year period starting in fiscal 2015 to deal with stalkers and other criminals, and to tighten security for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Prefectural departments are taking various steps to help stem the downtrend. The Aomori Prefectural Police, for example, scrapped its height, weight and chest circumference requirements in fiscal 2015.
“We do not want people to give up (on becoming officers) just because they do not meet the standards,” said an Aomori recruitment official.
“We can comprehensively judge their adequacy through physical strength tests and interviews,” the official said, adding that the department hopes abolishing the requirements will increase applicants.
In a similar move, the prefectural forces in Toyama, Shimane and Kagawa have eased physical standards for female applicants.
To attract the interest of students baseball players, the Hyogo Prefectural Police had its baseball team play the farm squad of the Orix Buffaloes in July 2014, the first game ever between a police team and a pro team.
Although the police were crushed, the match drew attention to the issue, allowing the police force to emphasize that even after joining, police officers can continue to play baseball.