OTSU, SHIGA PREF. – A 19-year-old police officer was arrested early Thursday on suspicion of shooting a senior colleague to death at a police box in Shiga Prefecture, investigators said.
Sergeant Akira Imoto, 41, was found collapsed at around 8:45 p.m. Wednesday at the police box in front of Kawase Station in the city of Hikone, police said. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Investigative sources said verbal abuse by the senior officer may have been a motive for the killing.
At around 1:35 a.m. on Thursday police detained the 19-year-old officer who had been on duty with Imoto in the neighboring town of Aisho. The suspect was on the run, armed with a handgun, for several hours.
Investigative sources said the teenage officer confessed to shooting Imoto, who was in charge of training him, because the senior officer “yelled at” him.
Imoto is believed to have been shot from behind, as he was found in a seated position with his upper body slumped forward over a desk. His handgun was holstered and showed no signs of having been used.
The National Police Agency said it believes the incident is Japan’s first murder by a teenage police officer. Shunichi Kuryu, the agency’s commissioner-general, told a news conference in Tokyo that it is also the first case of a police officer using a handgun to murder a fellow officer.
“It is extremely regrettable,” he said.
Imoto had been responsible for training the junior officer, police said, adding that there had been no indication of problems in the behavior of either officer prior to the shooting.
Although he complained about Imoto, the junior officer also told investigators he “was rigid, but properly guided me,” the sources said.
While at large, the young officer was believed to have had up to three bullets remaining in his weapon. The gun was found in the town of Toyosato, adjacent to Aisho, at about 7 a.m. Thursday. Given the gravity of the case and despite the fact that he is still a minor, Shiga Prefectural Police decided to release the officer’s name and photo while he was missing.But some media outlets decided to withhold his name after he was taken into police custody, as he no longer posed any danger to the public.
The decision by authorities to name the suspect triggered mixed reactions from experts.
Journalist Akihiro Otani said he felt the call was justified because police officers have weapons training, making them “far more dangerous” than other potential suspects who are minors.
But lawyer Hogara Iwamoto, who is well-versed in juvenile law, said that while the decision to disclose the name and photo is understandable, it should be treated as an exception. The 19-year-old was hired in April last year and was posted this January to the Hikone Police Station, which oversees the police box in front of Kawase Station.
The police box is run by three officers, with Imoto and the junior officer having been on duty on Wednesday. It is located in a commercial-residential district in the city on the eastern coast of Lake Biwa.
The police suspect that the man used a police car — since discovered in a paddy field in Aisho — after Imoto was found shot.
A 78-year-old local resident said, “I have lived here since I was born but did not expect such an incident to happen. I’m scared because the arrested suspect is a police officer who is supposed to ensure our safety.”