Policing outside the region: Vol.1: Police in Japan
This is the introductory chapter to our new section on NIPSA, which seeks to analyze police organizations outside the South Asian region. The purpose of this section is to give the reader a brief history of the police, its organisation and mechanisms for accountability in other parts of the world in order to draw lessons or best practices while keeping in mind the current state of police forces in South Asia.
For the sake of brevity, this article is divided into 2 parts, Part I deals with the history, organization and oversight mechanisms of the police in Japan.
Part I: Police Organizations in Japan
The police in Japan stand out as an apolitical body that function under the general supervision of independent agencies free of direct central government executive control. The police are further checked by an independent judiciary and monitored by a free and active press. This ensures that the police are generally well respected and can rely on considerable public cooperation in their work . Due to a largely homogenous population, relations between the public and the police remain good. Japan also continues to be one of the most crime-free advanced economic countries in Asia although recent trends reveal a slow rise in the fear of crime among the population at large . The rise of organized crime and teenage violence, particularly at the turn of the century has given the police much more responsibility in the prefectures. The government and the police claim that “illegal” migrants have contributed to the sharp increase of crimes in Japan . As a result, Japan is also witnessing a xenophobic culture with respect to foreigners, particularly those who live and work in Japan. Racial profiling, for instance, has become commonplace in recent times . Japan’s Police Duties Execution Law states: “A police officer may stop and question any person who has reasonable ground to be suspected of having committed or being about to commit a crime.” Foreigners are treated very suspiciously and harassed by police in public places, often without provocation.
Despite these developments, the police organization in Japan remains well respected and offer significant lessons on police accountability. The article below will examine the independent agencies established at the national and prefectural level with a view to highlight their role in achieving accountability.
Before proceeding to modern police organization in Japan, a cursory look at the history of policing is useful in situating current practices in the context of respect for human rights and rule of law. Policing in Japan initially emerged in feudal clans of the late Shogunate systems in 1863, in the form of the Shinsengumi, and in the imperial guard of the Emperor in Kyoto in 1867. During this period, power was concentrated around imperial family members and the shoguns, or the judges appointed by them. This gave them a large amount of discretion, which often resulted in the abuse of power and the denial of justice to scores of the peasant population.
The fall of the Tokugawa shogunate to the Japanese imperial armies heralded sweeping changes by the Emperor Meiji, simply known as the Meiji Restoration. Japan returned to imperial rule and abolished the feudal system in 1868. The Restoration led to enormous changes in Japan’s political and social structure, which included the establishment of its first professional police force. A civil policing system was established in Japan in 1874 under the centralized control of the Police Bureau within the Ministry of the Interior. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department was Japan’s pioneer modern police agency established in the same year. The driving purpose behind this was to quell internal disturbances and maintain general order during the Meiji Restoration. In addition to this, the police were responsible for fire protection and public health among other administrative duties.
As quickly as the 1880s, unfortunately, the police developed into an instrument of governmental control throughout Japan. They wore many hats – acting as general civil administrators, implementers of government policies, and facilitators of the imperial vision of unification and modernization. In rural areas especially, the police had a large impact on the population, and were accorded the same respect as the head of the village.
Their increasing involvement in political affairs was one of the foundations of the authoritarian state in Japan in the first half of the 20th century, and this continued until the end of the World War II. The police in this period were most active as enforcers of public morality, and were backed by the government and through legislation such as the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, which gave the Special Higher Police simply known as the Tokku, a wide ambit to arrest people for having “impure” or “wrong thoughts”, an interpretation of Article 1 of the law that sets punishments of up to ten years’ imprisonment for anyone joining an organization whose intent was to alter the system of private property or the “national polity” (kokutai) of Japan, i.e., the emperor system .
After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the Occupation Forces retained the then existing police structure until 1947 when the Diet passed the Police Law. The police function was decentralized into municipal forces for cities and towns, and the National Rural Police force for any village with a population of over 5,000.
In the process of democratisation of Japan after World War II, the Police Act enforced in 1948 provided for the incorporation of the system of Public Safety Commissions (PSC) into the police and created a structure consisting of National and Municipal police with the aim of ensuring democratic management and decentralizing police powers. The new setup was controlled by the National Public Safety Commission (NPSC) through the office of the prime minister. In 1951, the National Rural Police were integrated with Municipal Police forces until it was divided by Prefectures under a National Police Agency.
With the goal of retaining the positive features of the existing Act and remedying its institutional shortcomings, the Police Act was amended in its entirety into the present Act in 1954.
2. Police Organization and Oversight
In Japan, the police are organized at the national and prefectural level with a very clear line of command between the police and members of the safety commissions, both at the national as well as prefectural levels. The Police Law 1954 also very clearly lays out the duties and responsibilities of the National Public Safety Commission (NPSC) and the National Police Agency (NPA) at the national level, as well as of the Regional Police Bureaus (RPB), the Prefectural Public Safety Commissions (PPSC) and the Prefectural Police (PP) at the regional and prefectural level.
2.1. Organisation at the National Level
The national level police organisations are the National Police Safety Commission (NPSC) and the National Police Agency (NPA). They share a symbiotic relationship in that the NPSC creates basic policy while the NPA administers police affairs. While the NPSC is under the jurisdiction of the prime minister, the prime minister is not empowered to exercise direct command or control and the highest authority is the chairperson of the NPSC. Only in case of an emergency or volatile law and order problem, can the Prime Minister, on the advice of the NPSC, take direct control of the concerned area’s police force .
The chain of command is illustrated below.
2.1.1. National Public Safety Commission (NPSC)
The NPSC is a governmental body responsible mainly for the administrative supervision of the police and coordination of police administration. It also oversees matters relating to police education, communication, criminal identification, criminal statistics, and police equipment. Originally installed by the Occupation Forces to “democratize” the Japanese police, the public safety commissions emerged as a powerful institution buffering the NPA and prefectural forces from public scrutiny and political influence.
Article 5 of the Police law 1954  clearly lays down the areas where the NPSC has supervisory control over the NPA.
The NPSC is composed of a Minister of State as its chair, and five other members appointed by the prime minister with the consent of both houses of the Diet. The Minister of State is positioned as the chairman of the NPSC to facilitate a balance between ensuring political neutrality and clarifying the cabinet’s responsibilities regarding public safety . The remaining members of the NPSC can be members of the public, lawyers, journalists etc. Retired police officers are only eligible if removed from the police for over 10 years.
In its role as the overseer of the NPA, the politically appointed “Minister of Home Affairs” can only vote in the case of a deadlock among the other four members of the NPSC. A final institutional bulwark are the bylaws regarding the dismissal of commission members, which require proceedings similar to impeachment before the commission member has completed his/her term . As a result, the public safety commission has been able to escape partisan domination even within a single-party dominant political system.
The NPSC has supervisory control over the NPA and is empowered to appoint or dismiss senior police officers. To ensure its independence and neutrality, the prime minister is not empowered to direct and give orders to the NPSC, whereas its liaison with the Diet is through the chairperson.
The NPSC along with the PPSCs constitute the only fora that civilians have to make complaints against or report abuses by the police. The NPSC may direct the NPA in a specific or individual case of inspection prescribed in Article 12(2) of the Police Law 1954 , but only in so-far as the performance of police personnel is concerned. The law permits persons to lodge complaints against police with national and local public safety commissions. The commissions have the authority to direct police to conduct internal investigations.
These commissions, however, have been criticized for lacking independence from or sufficient authority over police agencies . The trend from post-war Japan has been that all public safety commissions almost never meet more than twice a month and virtually all commission members have full-time jobs in addition to their commission responsibilities. The commissions are given almost no staff except for attached police bureaucrats and therefore possess little independent capacity to investigate or govern the police bureaucracy .
Due to lack of action taken by the public safety commissions, the NPSC and the NPA have been taking steps from time to time to review their functioning. Their first attempt was made when the two agencies issued guidelines entitled “Outline of Police Reform” in August 2000 . The agencies then jointly compiled the “Police Reform Continuous Action” guidelines with a five point agenda with the publication of their assessment report in December 2005 . These reform measures gave the Chief of Police in the prefectures as well as the metropolitan cities the relative freedom to take disciplinary action against any of the officers under his command without a fear of coercion or intimidation from any third party. The police law 1954 was revised in March, 2007  to accommodate these changes. In 2009, the NPSC recognized the falling popularity of the police with the public, and therefore decided to streamline its operations by holding more meetings every month. PPSC’s now regularly hold 3-4 meetings a month, and two conferences with members of public service commissions are held to ensure better coordination between the commissions.
While the NPSC is alleged to be a toothless investigating body, and an inefficient complaints handling mechanism, it has played its role of insulating the NPA from political or any other external control very well in the past. In one such instance, when an ex-NPA officer was elected as a member in the NPSC (immediately after retirement from the NPA) , his successors were shunted into “dead-end” posts so as to avoid any influence on the part of the NPSC. There is a definite advantage to this kind of protection afforded by a public safety commission for replication in South Asia.
2.1.2. National Police Agency (NPA)
The NPA is the central coordinating body for the entire police system in Japan empowered under Article 13 of the Police Law 1954 
It is responsible for determining general standards and policies, as well as funding through its central office , while detailed direction of operations is left to the lower echelons of the police in the prefectures. Only in case of a national emergency or a large-scale disaster is the agency authorized to take command of prefectural police forces. The agency is composed mostly of civil servants, empowering them to collect information and to formulate and execute national policies related to policing. It is headed by a Commissioner General who is appointed by the NPSC with the approval of the prime minister.
The divisions in the NPA can be clearly seen in the diagram below .
Since its formation , the NPA has enjoyed relative autonomy in its functioning and has remained free of government interference. This was until the events of the 1990s showed that perhaps their faith in the social control capacity of Japanese society alone to prevent crime was misplaced. The embarrassment of high profile cases such as the Glico-Morinaga incident in 1986  convinced police executives that they needed to better coordinate large investigations and improve their forensic capabilities, if only to prevent another publicized police failure and shattered the illusion of a crime-free Japan. In 1984 a book was written by Tadamitsu Matsuhashi (ex NPA) in which he described how police security divisions customarily cooked the books to create slush funds. In 1996, when documents showing payments to fictitious informants at Tokyo’s Akasaka police station were exposed, a group of ombudsmen filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court to seek information about the practice  It is unclear if any action was taken for the same.
Starting in 1996, the National Police Agency has periodically issued guidelines on how to deal with victims properly, improving the complaints mechanism in 2000, and recently a crackdown on organized crime in Japan in 2010. The main motive behind these guidelines and schemes is to restore public trust to the police and to avoid secondary victimization by police inaction. Since these developments, the victim support movement, in both private and public sectors has grown very rapidly and the press is now far more interested in representing the victim perspective in the media.
In the NPA lies a good example for South Asia. While it is on similar lines to federal agencies such as the FBI, it has greater independence in its functioning and its role as a coordinating body between the RPB’s and the PP forces. There is probably no better example than the NPA’s ability to equitably, and presumably effectively distribute police resources across jurisdictions. According to research, Japan has a near perfect one-to-one distribution of police officers relative to crime across jurisdictions, much higher than other developed nations and higher still than countries in South Asia where for example, police are often diverted for VIP duties, compromising on their original role.
Additionally, despite considerable differences in political clout, rural, urban, and suburban prefectures all receive nearly equivalent police services relative to their need, which is clearly not seen in South Asian jurisdictions. With firm insulation provided by the NPSC from any sort of political interference, the NPA can be said to be a successful model in terms of its independence in functioning and the strict oversight it is subject to. A three-shift system resulted in a more efficient temporal distribution of police presence, compared to countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where the police are mandated to always be on duty, except for when on leave or suspension.
Regional Police Bureaus (RPB)
The National Police Agency maintains regional police bureaus, each responsible for a number of prefectures. There are seven bureaus  in the major cities, excluding Tokyo and the northern island of Hokkaido. Each is headed by a Director General  and has an organizational set up similar to the central office. The RPB’s are responsible for certain duties given under Article 5 (2) of the Police Law . These RPBs are located in major cities of each geographic region. Each RPB exercises necessary control and supervision over prefectural police within its jurisdiction as well as provides them with support services under the authority and orders of NPA’s Commissioner General. Attached to each RPB is a Regional Police School which provides training to police personnel for all prefectures that come under it.
2.2. Organisation in the Prefectures 
Each prefectural government is a local entity and comparable to a state/provincial government in South Asia. The Police Law 1954 stipulates that each prefecture shall have its own Prefectural Police (PP). The PP is supervised by the Prefectural Public Safety Commission (PPSC), similar to the NPSC, and the PP’s are responsible for carrying out all police duties within the boundaries of the prefecture. These police are then sub-divided at the Police Station and Police sub-station levels. This organisation only differs on the island of Hokkaido . The PP headquarters are under the supervision and control of RPB’s of the NPA within defined duties under Article 5(2) of Police Law 1954.
The line of command is clearly shown in the chart below:
2.2.1. Prefectural Public Safety Commissions (PPSC)
At both the national and prefectural levels, public safety commissions have administrative supervision over the police. Prefectural Public Safety Commissions (PPSCs) fall under the jurisdiction of the elected governors of a prefecture. By law, the PPSC is mandated to maintain close contact at all times with the NPSC and other PPSCs .
While most arrests and investigations are performed by the PP officials (and, in large jurisdictions, by police assigned to substations), each PPSC exercises administrative supervision over their respective PP by formulating basic policies and regulating police operations. They are also authorized to carry out certain administrative functions as follows:
- Issue of licenses for amusement businesses
- License for possession of a firearm, or any other type of lethal weapon
- Issue of driving permits
Aside from this, the PPSC , the governors, or the prefectural assemblies are not allowed to supervise individual cases or specific law enforcement activities of their respective PPs. Members can only be removed by the prefectural Governor with the consent of both assemblies of the prefecture, in a similar manner to members of the NPSC with the exception of the prefectures of Hokkaido, Kyoto and Osaka where the governor must obtain the permission of the mayor and the city council.
2.2.2. Prefectural Police (PP)
Prefectural Police Headquarters is in direct command of their PP under the supervision of their respective Provincial Public Safety Commissions. They are administered by the NPA through the RPBs with respect to certain provisions under Article 5 (2) of the Police Laws 1954. They are headed by a Chief of Prefectural Police who directs and supervises the PP forces. The Chief is directly responsible to the PPSC in his prefecture and is appointed by the Governor of the Prefecture, with the consent of the Prefectural Assembly and the recommendation of the PPSC. In case of irregularities, the respective PPSCs may make necessary recommendations to the NPSC concerning disciplinary punishment or dismissal of Chiefs of the Prefectural Police, but this removal is only enabled after comprehensive investigation of the facts relating to the case.
The procedure for filing complaints is as such: A written complaint must be submitted to the PPSC, who shall assist the person in filing such a complaint. The PPSC then issues direction to the PP HQ concerned for appropriate action. The PP then holds an investigation and takes measures to rectify the wrong done. Then they send the result back to the PPSC, who subsequently notify the complainant of the result . It is unclear how well this system works, but it is clear that the PPSC have greater authority to direct investigations on errant police than the public oversight bodies in South Asia.
The public safety model was applied in Pakistan through the ill-fated Police Order 2002, where, similar to Japan, the public safety commissions where divided at the national, provincial and district level.
“Pakistan is the only country in Asia other than Japan to have instituted the transparent system of neutral oversight of its law enforcement agencies”, Minister for Interior, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao stated in 2006 . Due to poor implementation, this model has not been successful in Pakistan, and was seen simply as a politically motivated move by the Musharraf government to have greater federal control over provincial police.
Perhaps the main difference lies in our societies. The Japanese, for well over a century have acquiesced to observe the unceasing duty of balancing the conflicting demands of traditional hierarchy, discretion, circumspection and reticence on the one hand, with Western-style ambition, logic and assertive argumentation on the other particularly in the post-war period. The discipline and homogeneity of their population is the probable reason for their success as compared to other Asian and western counterparts .
Experts contend that Japan’s success in controlling crime has often come at the expense of civil rights . Punishments meted out to those who break the law are very strict and harsh; the accused are subjected to prolonged detentions without access to legal counsel (this can extend for upto 23 days without charge);  all trials are conducted in Japanese, causing problems for non-Japanese speakers and sometimes trails are even conducted in the absence of the accused. The conviction rate in trials in Japan are extraordinarily high (upto 99% when last reported), which might be perceived as good in South Asia where all courts are mired with a backlog of pending cases, but the courts in Japan are alleged to be excessive in dealing out punishments and rely heavily on confessions extracted from suspects while in police custody .
While this sort of harshness must be condemned, Japan’s police are widely seen as a very independent, non-partisan police force and credit must be given to the clean manner in which operational control, oversight and community engagement is handled by the apex police body, and the insulation from interference from any third party, that is provided by the public safety commissions.
End of Part I:
Next month, Part II will explore police training and community policing in Japan, the koban system
-  Global Security Org (2010); Intelligence: NPSC: http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/world/japan/npsc.htm as on October 8,2010.
-  International Journal of the Sociology of Law (2006), Crime and Criminal Justice in Modern Japan: From re-integrative shaming to popular punitivism, Vol 34, pp.157-178
-  Amnesty International (2006), Amnesty projects in Japan 2004-2006: http://secure.amnesty.or.jp/index_e.html as on 8 October 2010
-  The New York Times (2010): Too Tall for Japan, 7 July: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/08/opinion/08iht-edkumiko.html as on 8 October 2010
-  The Peace Preservation Law 1925 : http://personal.ashland.edu/~jmoser1/japan/peace.htm – NON Official Copy as on 4 October 2010
-  Article 71, Police Law 1954.
-  NPA (2008): Laws and orders relevant to policing issues: http://www.npa.go.jp/english/seisaku7/hourei1-4.pdf as on October 4,2010.
-  NPA (2009): White paper on Kokusai (English): http://www.npa.go.jp/english/kokusai9/White_Paper_2009_8.pdf as on 4 October 2010
-  The term of members to the NPSC is 5 years, with an option to be re-elected one time. Under Article 9 (2), of the Police Law of Japan (1954), only the Prime Minister may dismiss a member of the Commission with the consent of both Houses of the Diet in case he deems that such member has been incapacitated from performing his duties because of a mental or a physical defect or that he has violated his official obligations or committed a misconduct ill befitting to a member of the Commission. Article 9 (3 &4) lay down some further grounds for members dismissal, but save these provisions, no member can be removed against his will.
-  ARTICLE 12-2. According to the provision of paragraph 2 of Article 5, the National Public Safety Commission may direct the National Police Agency in a specific or individual case of inspection prescribed in the item 24, paragraph 2 of Article 5, if necessary. 2. In the case in which the National Public Safety Commission made a direction according to the previous paragraph, the Commission may order one of the committees nominated by the Commission to monitor the implementation of the direction, if necessary. 3. The National Public Safety Commission may order a personnel of the National Police Agency to assist the committee in the monitor activity prescribed in the previous paragraph.
-  U.S Department of State (2007), Human Rights Reports, 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices , East Asia and the Pacific , Japan, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 6 March 2007: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78775.htm as on 4 October 2010.
-  Hardvard U.(2003); Heaven for a Cop? Policing a High(er) Crime Society, Comparative Politics Research Workshop, 8 October: socsci2.ucsd.edu/~aronatas/scrretreat/Brunelli.Christian.doc as on 6 October 2010.
-  One aspect included in these was the proper handling of complaints regarding police conduct by the creation of a system for written complaint submissions and the proper development of a complaint handling system. The same document is mandated to Establish a “police for the people” as well.
-  NPA (2009): White paper on Kokusai (English): http://www.npa.go.jp/english/kokusai9/White_Paper_2009_8.pdf as on 4 October 2010
-  Law No. 162 – June 8, 1954, Last Revised by Law No. 22 – March 31, 2007: (selected sections) Chiefs of Police must report all reasons for all disciplinary actions to the Prefectural Public Safety Commission. According to the nation wide mandate laid out in the policy document, the police will promote information disclosure, strict supervision, reflection of people’s opinions in police administration, and dealing with complaints appropriately .
-  Article 13: “The general affairs of the National Public Safety Commission shall be handled by the National Police Agency”.
-  The Central Office (NPA) includes the Secretariat, with divisions for general operations, planning, information, finance, management, procurement and distribution of police equipment, and seven regional bureaus. Organisations such as the National Police Academy, the National Research Institute of Police Science, and the Imperial Guard Headquarters are affiliated with the NPA. It also provides funds for equipment, salaries, riot control, escort, and natural disaster duties, and for internal security and multiple jurisdiction cases. National police statutes and regulations establish the strength and rank allocations of all local personnel and the locations of local police stations. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and Hokkaido Prefectural Police Headquarters are excluded from the jurisdiction of the NPA and have their own (but similar) organisational structures.
-  National Police Agency (2010): Police in Japan, Organisation of the NPA 2009, Page 3, as on 30 September 2010
-  The Glico-Morinaga Affair was an infamous kidnapping of the CEO of Glico-Morinaga at his family home. At the time, Glico-Morinaga was one of the largest confectionary/dairy products companies in Japan. A long investigation revealed little except the incompetence of the police and their failure to coordinate investigation across prefectural boundaries (Osaka and Hyogo in this case). Although the kidnappers eventually returned the CEO, they subsequently announced that they had tainted Glico-Morinaga products, creating a public health panic. he home invasion and kidnapping itself was a crime that was considered shocking to many as one of the first such instances in post-war Japan
-  Japan Times (2004): Cracking Police Shell games, 22 March: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20040322kh.html as on 8 October 2010.
-  The seven Regional Police Bureaus are listed below with the prefectures that come under them:
- Tohoku – Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, and Fukushima Prefectures
- Kinki – Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, and Wakayama Prefectures
- Shikoku – Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime, Kochi Prefectures
- Kanto – Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Niigata, Yamanashi, Nagano, and Shizuoka Prefectures
- Chubu – Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Prefectures
- Kyushu – Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, and Okinawa Prefectures
- Chugoku – Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi Prefectures
-  Article 31, Police Law 1954(role of the Director General): The Director General of the Regional Police Bureau shall control the affairs of the Regional Police Bureau, direct and supervise the police personnel under it’s command, as well as direct and supervise, subject to the direction of the Commissioner General of the NPA, the Prefectural Police with respect to the functions of the Regional Police Bureau.
-  Regional Police Bureau functions, items no. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, and 25 of paragraph 2, Article 5, Police Laws 1954.
-  Japan is divided into 47 Prefectures.
-  Hokkaido: The PP forces are divided into five or less areas, whereby an Area Headquarters directs and control the area police, led by a Chief of area Police. They are overseen by the Area public safety commissions with similar organization and functions, subordinate to the PPSC.
-  Article 38 (6), Police Law 1954
-  Large PPSCs have five members, while others have three. Eligibility criteria for members include those who have not served as police personnel or prosecutorial official in the last five years. Their appointment is made by the prefectural governor with the consent of the prefectural assembly, and they are given a tenure period of three years with an option to be re-elected twice. The appointed members must then elect their chairman from this pool. There are no restrictions as such on membership, but by law, a majority of the PPSC members may not belong to the same political party
-  NPA (2009): White paper on Kokusai (English): http://www.npa.go.jp/english/kokusai9/White_Paper_2009_8.pdf as on 4 October 2010
-  Pak Tribune (2006): NPSC to bridge gap between Govt-people, 13 June: http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.shtml?146664 as on 8 October 2010.
-  Until the mid 1980s, Japan’s total clearance rate hovered near 70 percent, while most Western countries ranged between 20 and 40 percent.
-  Igarashi 1986; Kobayashi 1998
-  BBC (2009); Japan urged to end ‘false confessions’, 5 October: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8290767.stm as on 6 October 2010
-  Ibid