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Spurred by a spate of vicious crimes and a sharp rise in crimes by foreigners, the number of criminal offenses in Japan last year reached a record postwar high of 2,735,612 cases. The arrest rate, which is a barometer of public safety, fell to 19.8 percent, the first time since 1945 that it had dropped below 20 percent. The 2002 police white paper, issued by the National Police Agency last Friday, describes the grim reality of a vicious circle in which the nation’s police officers struggle to keep up with the rising number of crimes, and new crimes occur before investigations into ongoing cases can be completed. Public order must not be allowed to deteriorate any further. In halting the slide, the capability of the police alone is limited. Each and every one of us must ask ourselves what we can do to reverse this trend. It is time for some serious thinking.

The number of recognized criminal cases is being driven up by a rise in street crime, such as theft and bag-snatching, but crime by foreigners, which is part and parcel of internationalization, is also a problem. Last year there were 27,763 cases involving 14,660 foreigners. Both of these figures are on an upward trend. In particular, the number of arrested persons has increased about 75-fold over the last two decades. Among the offenses committed by foreigners, special mention should be made of a spate of burglaries involving lock-picking. Such offenses began to appear in the Tokyo metropolitan region about five years ago. The police suspect most of these burglaries are the work of Chinese gangs.

It is said that many of these foreigners settle in Japan, become organized and move on from petty crimes to the more vicious kind. Police detention facilities in Tokyo are already full of foreigners, and a shortage of interpreters for investigations is becoming a constant problem. It is essential to cooperate with police authorities in other countries and strengthen efforts to prevent illegal immigration at points of entry.

Juvenile crime, which is said to be hitting a postwar peak, is also a serious problem. Such offenses mainly involve shoplifting and the theft of bicycles and motorcycles. As ever, the lack of a sense of standards and guilty feelings among offenders is conspicuous. At the same time, there has also been a sharp increase in crime in which juveniles are the victims. Sex crimes, such as forced pornography, are prominent, and the number of cases of people suffering as a result of encounters arranged through dating sites on the Internet or via mobile phones is also on the rise.

Relations among neighbors are weakening, and disinterest toward others is spreading even in local communities. An increase in juvenile delinquency mirrors the problems of adult society.

There is no end to vicious crime, either. Two years ago, a family of four was brutally murdered in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, but despite the fact that plenty of evidence was left at the scene, the investigation has yet to lead anywhere. This again shows that investigations relying on human ties are becoming increasingly ineffective.

The police have responded to rising crime and an increase in inquiries from citizens by reviewing their operations. Last year the police’s consultation system, beefed up following internal reflection over a number of scandals, dealt with a record number of 930,000 consultations with citizens. These ranged from everyday social problems, such as troublesome phone calls, to such crimes as stalking. Among them are cases that could escalate into serious incidents, so a sincere and correct response is called for.

In fact, public order as we perceive it is deteriorating even more than the figures suggest. Many people probably share the impression that, in the case of violent crimes like murder, for example, offenders are only arrested if they get caught nearly red-handed or if they are related to the victims.

Aware that it is hard to restore public order once it declines, the police have tried to deter crime on the streets by, for example, increasing the number of officers and beefing up uniformed patrols. But in the background of the deterioration in public order are such complex factors as the prolonged economic slump and the collapse of the traditional community-based society, so there is a limit to what the police alone can do.

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