National / Crime & Legal

Japan’s crime rate hits record low as number of thefts plummets

Kyodo

The number of recorded crimes in Japan continued to fall in 2017, hitting a record low of 915,111 on the back of a sharp drop in thefts, preliminary police data showed Thursday.

The overall number of cases has consistently declined in Japan after hitting a peak of 2.85 million in 2002, with the government stepping up efforts to tackle crime by boosting police numbers and widening the use of security cameras.

In 2016 the figure dropped below the 1 million mark for the first time since the end of World War II, to 996,120.

But fraud committed via messages sent through social networking sites and other internet services has been trending upwards, with the police seeing 5,756 crimes last year — a 3.8-fold jump since 2013.

Kidnapping and human trafficking also increased with the annual number rising 11 cases to 239 in 2017, a 1.3-fold climb since 2013. The majority of victims were young girls, with 50 cases involving elementary school pupils, 40 cases junior high school students and 42 cases senior high school students.

Among those are girls who ran away from home and sought help via social media for places to stay, ending up going to places offered by men they had just met online. The National Police Agency cautions youngsters against simply following someone they do not know, describing this as “extremely dangerous.”

The latest data suggests the focus of organized crime groups may be shifting to cybercrime and types of fraud that randomly target people via phone or email, an NPA official said.

The overall number of serious crimes, such as murder and robbery, stood at 10,889 in 2017, down 657 cases from the previous year.

By the type of crime, the number of larceny cases decreased 67,607 to 655,541 — down 33.2 percent compared with 2013 — with bicycle thefts falling by nearly 30,000 cases from 2016, to 205,392.

After the definition of rape was broadened under the revised Penal Code last July to include male victims, the number of cases rose 122 from the previous year to 1,111.

The number of indecent assaults and robberies fell by 380 and 480 cases since the previous year, respectively, to 5,808 and 1,852 cases, while there were 920 murder cases and 959 involving arson. Compared with 2013, the figure for robberies was down 44.3 percent.

Given the rise in online fraud cases, the agency warned the public against communicating through tools that do not involve face-to-face contact.

In relation to billing fraud, the agency said many victims were duped into covering fake charges using prepaid electronic money cards that can be purchased at convenience stores.

There are also scams dubbed as “ore-ore,” which means “it’s me, it’s me” in Japanese. The swindle involves perpetrators making random phone calls and initiating a conversation by saying “It’s me,” before posing as an acquaintance to ask for a favor or money to pay off a bill. Elderly people are often targeted, with the perpetrators pretending to be a son or friend.

Suspects were often identified through police questioning, followed by other means such as security camera footage and police interrogation. In many snatching cases, perpetrators were identified by security cameras.

Meanwhile, the number of crimes uncovered and exposed by the police fell by 9,961 cases to 327,105.

By prefecture, Tokyo was top for the number of recorded crimes with 125,258, followed by Osaka with 107,032 cases and Aichi with 65,511 cases.