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Families and schools play a fundamental role in preventing crime, yet their effectiveness is waning. That is the key message of this year’s white paper on crime. Crime is a mirror of a nation’s social condition, and, simply put, Japanese society is sick.

The underlying trend is that crime is not only increasing but also becoming more violent. The list of violent crimes, already lengthy, is growing longer. They include, according to the report, murder, robbery, bodily injury, intimidation, extortion, rape, sexual molestation, burglary and vandalism.

What is particularly worrying about these incidents is, first, that crime is increasingly committed by ordinary citizens with no police record. Until the late 1990s, investigators say, the arrest of “usual suspects” — those with a criminal record — often led to the resolution of other cases. Now the nationwide proliferation of crime, they say, is making arrests more difficult than before. The social fabric of communities is breaking apart.

Second, the number of “collective” crimes — those involving more than one person — is rising. Today the number of accomplices involved in burglaries is three to eight times what it was in 1987, according to the report. This suggests that crime, particularly acts involving ordinary citizens, is easier to perpetrate in groups than alone.

Third, there is a growing tendency to use physical violence to steal money. This is demonstrated by a rapid increase in the number of bank robberies being committed. Also on the rise are late-night robberies at convenience stores. This reflects, perhaps, the country’s long and deep economic slump. Or it may mirror a general decline in moral values or an endemic greed for money.

Fourth, crime targeting relatives and acquaintances is growing. It is alarming to think that malice, a grudge or some other hidden motive might turn a person into a knife-wielding menace who attacks someone he or she knows. Experts say such people have a warped psychological profile similar to that of school bullies.

What can and should be done to cope with these growing tendencies toward violence? The public wants specific answers to this question, not just information concerning what kinds of crime are committed. Disappointingly, the white paper offers few prescriptions.

For example, referring to a United Nations crime survey in which Japan has participated, the report says Japan lags behind other major industrialized nations — 10th among 11 nations — in the installation of antiburglary devices such as alarms, locks, and window and door grids. Why the lag? The report’s explanation is that a low “incidence of damage” contributes to the minimal level of protection against burglary in this country.

On the other hand, the white paper points out that burglaries of private homes, some involving foreign criminals, have been increasing. But, here again, it says nothing about what kinds of security devices should be installed. Survey results will have little practical meaning if they are unaccompanied by specific preventive measures.

Also worrisome is the fact that the white paper on crime has revealed that the family bond is unraveling and the role of schools and communities as “crime watchdogs” is declining. Building a safer society requires, as the report points out, closer cooperation and mutual understanding among communities, law enforcement authorities and private crime-fighting organizations. The critical question is, of course, how to promote such cooperation.

Last year, a Justice Ministry official said the publication of the annual crime report “stands at a turning point.” The comment deserves fresh attention. It is a reminder that this key white paper, for all the valuable information and data it supplies, is flawed in a number of critical respects.

One problem with this year’s report is that it has mixed up the arrest rates in Japan and the United States, saying the rate here is the lowest of the leading industrial countries, when in fact it is the other way around. The mistake has been attributed to a preconception held by ministry analysts that security in this country is “deteriorating.” An inaccurate analysis of crime data can be dangerous.

Another shortcoming is the report’s lack of originality. Some of the statistics given in the paper overlap those published by the National Police Agency and the Supreme Court. The value of the white paper would be enhanced if it broke with tradition and proposed specific ways to combat crime rather than just presented the facts.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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