John on November 9, 2007 at 3:23 pm
Japan has the lowest murder rate of any industrialized nation by far. In fact, if the US murder rate seems unnaturally high by European standards, the Japanese rate seems unnaturally low. Today’s LA Times suggests there may be some reasons for this beyond simply having a lower crime rate:
Photos of the teenager’s corpse show a deep cut on his right arm, horrific bruising on his neck and chest. His face is swollen and covered with cuts. A silhouette of violence runs from the corner of his left eye over the cheekbone to his jaw, and his legs are pocked with small burns the size of a lighted cigarette.
But police in Japan’s Aichi prefecture saw something else when they looked at the body of Takashi Saito, a 17-year-old sumo wrestler who arrived at a hospital in June. The cause of death was “heart disease,” police declared.
As is common in Japan, Aichi police reached their verdict on how Saito died without an autopsy. No need for a coroner, they said. No crime involved. Only 6.3% of the unnatural deaths in Aichi are investigated by a medical examiner, a minuscule rate even by nationwide standards in Japan, where an autopsy is performed in 11.2% of cases.
But Saito’s case has given credence to complaints by a group of frustrated doctors, former pathologists and ex-cops who argue that Japan’s police culture is the main obstacle.
Police discourage autopsies that might reveal a higher homicide rate in their jurisdiction, and pressure doctors to attribute unnatural deaths to health reasons, usually heart failure, the group alleges. Odds are, it says, that people are getting away with murder in Japan, a country that officially claims one of the lowest per capita homicide rates in the world.
“You can commit a perfect murder in Japan because the body is not likely to be examined,” says Hiromasa Saikawa, a former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police security and intelligence division. He says senior police officers are “obsessed with statistics because that’s how you get promotions,” and strive to reduce the number of criminal cases as much as possible to keep their almost perfect solution rate.
Japan’s annual police report says its officers made arrests in 96.6% of the country’s 1,392 homicides in 2005.
But Saikawa, who says he became disillusioned by “fishy” police practices and in 1997 left the force in disgust after 30 years, claims that police try to avoid adding homicides to their caseload unless the identity of the killer is obvious.
“All the police care about is how they look to people; it’s all PR to show that their capabilities are high,” Saikawa says. “Without autopsies they can keep their percentage [of solved cases] high. It’s all about numbers.”
“The police textbooks taught us not to trust doctors,” he says, adding that police officers indirectly pressure doctors to sign death certificates without an autopsy. “Doctors are afraid of the police. They are afraid of retaliation. They worry the police could prosecute them for malpractice. So they are easily pressured.
“There is no one refereeing the police,” Saikawa says. “It’s scary.”
There’s a lot more worth reading. Apparently Japan is the best place in the industrialized world to get away with murder.
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