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2014年8月 8日 (金)

(社説)警察の不正 組織の病理にメスを

August 07, 2014
EDITORIAL: Deep-rooted structural problems behind Osaka crime data scandal
(社説)警察の不正 組織の病理にメスを

Police in Osaka Prefecture are reeling from a scandal of unprecedented scale after it emerged they failed to report tens of thousands of offenses to improve the prefecture's crime rate figures.
The whole organization should be held strictly accountable for this dire state of affairs.

All of the 65 police stations in the prefecture falsified crime figures in their districts over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012. Data was withheld on incidents of street theft, destruction of property and the like. The police stations failed to report more than 81,000 offenses, some 10 percent of the total, during the period.

In 2010, the prefectural police announced that Osaka shed its shameful title of being the most street crime-infested prefecture--a disgraceful status it held for 10 years through 2009. But it was a false claim based on manipulated data.

The way the prefectural police department responded to the revelation was also surprising. The department concluded that it was not a case of conspiracy involving the whole organization. It claimed the officers in charge at the police stations acted on their own in falsifying crime data without being told to do so by any senior police official.

The scandal has even more serious implications if all the stations were really involved in the same misconduct even though no senior official gave clear directions concerning the matter.

The prefectural police department should recognize that what happened has its roots in serious problems with the organization.

There have been similar cases of data manipulation by police in various parts of the nation. The Saga prefectural police underreported the number of accidents resulting in injury or death. The Aichi prefectural police failed to report a number of fatal traffic accidents.

What is common to all these cases is excessive importance placed on statistics.

After Toru Hashimoto became governor of Osaka Prefecture in 2008 with a pledge to rescue Osaka from the shame of being the most street crime-ridden prefecture, the successive chiefs of the prefectural police department constantly spurred officers on the front line to make greater efforts to reduce crimes. Many officers in charge have said they felt strong pressure that made them hesitant to report crimes.

A top-down system is the norm for police organizations.

If the upper echelons of police regard crime and other statistics as measures of job performances and reward officers for improved data and punish them for worse numbers, it is not surprising that rank-and-file officers start trying to avoid presenting bad data that would displease their bosses.

The number of recognized crimes in an area is an important indicator of the level of public safety. What police should do is to analyze all data carefully to take effective steps to improve the public security situation.

If a crime data falsification scandal raises doubts among citizens about whether police will deal with crime reports appropriately, there will be grave consequences for public security.

The Osaka prefectural police department has reprimanded 97 officers, including heads of police stations and chiefs of criminal affairs divisions during the period in question.

Every time this kind of scandal comes to light, police punish responsible people and avow to make sure that all officers will be properly instructed as to how they should act.

But these disciplinary actions alone cannot root out the structural problems with the organizations that are behind such scandals.

The burden of work and responsibility borne by police is growing. Police stations across the nation receive more than 1.7 million requests for help and advice every year. The number of cases that demand cautious responses, such as stalking and domestic violence, is on the rise.

On the other hand, the fiscal crunches of the central and local governments are making it difficult to expand police squads in response to the growing workload.

The National Police Agency should ask itself why police officers on the front line who are supposed to have a strong sense of mission are often tempted to commit misconduct. The agency should view the situation as a serious challenge for the national police force as a whole and embark on identifying contributing factors while seeking advice from outside experts.

If the agency treats the latest scandal in Osaka as an exceptional, isolated case, it will no doubt see many more similar episodes in the future.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 7


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