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Friday, Oct. 4, 2002

THE ZEIT GIST

PUBLISHED FIGURES ARE HALF THE STORY

Foreigner crime stats cover up a real cop-out


By ARUDOU DEBITO

The National Police Agency recently announced that the number of crimes committed by foreigners on temporary visas jumped by 25.8 percent.

News photo
Easy target --vending machines

Serious crimes like murder, robbery, and arson, were up 18.2 percent.

Feasting on the statistics, the mass media headlined such salient points as foreigners are three times more likely than Japanese to commit crimes in groups.

On May 1, 2000, the Sankei Shimbun erroneously ran on its front page: "Foreign Crime Rises Again, Six-Fold in Ten Years."

And authorities have come up with some creative ways to deal with this crime wave.

On April 9, 2000, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara urged the Nerima Self Defense Forces, in the event of an earthquake, to round up illegal foreigners in case they riot. He did not clarify how to determine an illegal foreigner on sight. Gov. Ishihara's May 8, 2001 Sankei Shimbun essay credited DNA with giving Chinese criminal tendencies.

It's not just the authorities though who are cashing in.

Miwa Locks, Japan's best-selling locksmith, in February 2000 advertised their new foreigner-proof security.

A 1992 Japanese cop movie, "Heavenly Sins" (Tengoku no Taizai), offered this forensics gem: "Too horrible a murder for a Japanese to commit. Musta been a foreigner."

These hysterics are sending the wrong signals.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported Feb. 22, 2001 that Nagano banks and government offices displayed prefectural police notices about foreign money snatchers showing a blond gentleman stealing from a Japanese woman's bag in a bank while his (blond) accomplice asked the victim how to use the ATM. The article also mentioned December 2000 Tokyo Metropolitan Police flyers: call the police if you hear someone speaking Chinese.

In February 2000, the Shizuoka Police Department distributed to shopkeepers a handbook entitled "Characteristic Crimes by Foreigners Coming to Japan."

The Tokyo Nakano Police recently issued several signs depicting foreigners as criminals. A notice posted at Nakano Sakaue Subway stations read "Beware of bagsnatching bad-foreigner groups prowling for people on the way back from banks! Their methods include dropping small amounts of money nearby, or distracting people by spraying shaving cream on their backs, saying 'your clothes are dirtied,' and then snatching your money."

It continued, mostly in red ink: "If a suspicious foreigner (fushin na gaikokujin) calls out to you, do not take your eyes or hands off your money or your bag."

Another banner in the area read; "Watch out! Bagsnatchings by bad foreigners who have come to Japan (rainichi furyou gaikokujin) frequently occur (tahatsu).

Nakano Police acknowledged producing and distributing these bagsnatcher notices. They claimed that it was in response to widespread reportage of risingcrime by foreigners. While unable to provide specific figures they did admit that the number of bagsnatchings has actually fallen within their precinct.

But profiling in this way breeds distrust and misunderstanding. And foreigners arrested on circumstantial evidence, such as parking near a crime scene, may be in dire straits. Japanese police investigations can legally deny suspects access to a lawyer or a consulate for two days, plus detain them an additional 21 days if a judge approves the action. As the U.S. State Department reminded us last year with its reports of "credible" cases of physical and psychological abuse, accidental arrest in Japan is no joke.

But let's return to the crime stats. There's no space here to question specific data (save the inflation of crime by including "visa violations" -- which only foreigners can commit), so I'll focus on the science involved.

The sampling process contributes to the statistical rise.

If police choose to target foreigners, the number of foreigners arrested will rise. But with the daily reports of Japanese committing patricide, matricide, and infanticide, not to mention the omnipresent biker gangs, police should try to maintain a balance.

And the media should acknowledge the statistics: The foreign population is growing, the Japanese one is not.

More foreigners present means more foreigners who can commit crime. In actuality, some kinds of crimes by foreigners, both the absolute number of them and as a proportion of the crime total, have fallen.

But if the Japanese crime rate is reported as rising -- which it is -- the police will be seen as not doing their job.

Selective reporting and unfair profiling must stop. With Japan's aging society, both the United Nations and a prime minister's commission reported in 2000 that Japan needs more immigration, not less.

Attracting and assimilating immigrants can only happen if residents are afforded equal application of the law and reporting.



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