Those words of advice are intended for every member of the nation’s police forces. The case of the three Saitama prefectural police officers just dismissed and expected to be indicted for falsifying documents is only the latest in a series of incidents suggesting that many police have forgotten, or never learned, that listening to people in order to protect them is one of their primary responsibilities.

A 21-year-old woman tried to file a criminal libel complaint against a stalker who allegedly later murdered her before committing suicide. The dismissed officers did everything they could to discourage her from doing so despite the fact that her alleged stalker had printed, widely distributed and publicly posted defamatory flyers about her. The police tried to make it seem her complaint had never been received, and even took no steps to retain physical evidence in the form of the insulting handbills. In a public statement her family will never forget, their supervisor said, “The murder might have been prevented if the police had listened to the victim’s complaints.”

Following hard on the heels of the inaction and inefficiency of the Niigata prefectural police in the nine-year confinement of an abducted girl in a house only a few meters away from a police box, the Saitama incident fuels the growing public demand for a top-to-bottom housecleaning of the nation’s police forces. Although it was largely greeted by media silence, the news conference held last week by the chairman of a government advisory panel on police reform could represent a needed push for meaningful change.

The Council on the Reform of Police Systems was set up under the National Public Safety Commission, the government body charged with supervising the National Police Agency, before details of the Saitama case were widely known. Its chairman is a ranking media figure — Mr. Seiichiro Ujiie, president of Nippon Television Network — and all five members of the panel are from the private sector. Despite Mr. Ujiie’s position, however, regrettably little attention was paid to his announcement that his panel of experts intends to issue firm proposals for police reform to the government by mid-June, while the Diet is still in session.

The silence may be more a matter of unfortunate timing than of journalistic cynicism over the possibility of real change in the nation’s police. The chairman’s news conference took place just as media attention was riveted on the steps leading to the formation of the new administration of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, following the collapse and hospitalization of his predecessor, Mr. Keizo Obuchi. Among the points Mr. Ujiie raised was recognition of the need for new guidelines for the disclosure to victims, and others directly concerned, of details about criminal investigations.

He also referred directly to the effects and possible causes of the series of police scandals by adding the panel’s collective voice to calls for police officers to pay more serious attention to complaints from private citizens about possible criminal behavior. First, of course, members of the public — young women in particular — must be convinced that reporting incidents of molestation or sexual violence will produce results. Much work lies ahead for both the National Police Agency and the prefectural police forces that the agency coordinates and partly controls.

A nationwide survey conducted last fall by the Prime Minister’s Office found that nearly one-quarter of women in their 20s and 30s who responded had been targeted by stalkers. Yet many women who are victims of sex crimes do not report them to the police. A different survey conducted in February by a Justice Ministry think tank found that of 31 women who had been subjected to sexual violence over the last five years, only three reported the incidents to the police. Nearly one-fourth of those who did not said it was because they thought nothing would be done to prosecute the perpetrators.

If the police are unable to reform themselves, then the blueprint for change must come from outside. The proposals forthcoming in June from the advisory reform panel are eagerly awaited, as are any indications they will be acted on. Despite the ongoing scandals, police officials are reported to be privately raising strong objections to taking directions from outside the fold, so to speak. That is intolerable arrogance from public servants who are apparently unable to keep their own house in order.

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