Saturday, December 08, 2007

News roundup 1: Japanese crime falls again

The Japan Urban Security Research Institue released its regional crime map for 2006 this week, revealing that reported crime rates have dropped by 28% since 2002, when the last map was prepared, and all areas of Japan appear to have experienced a reduction in crime. I can't find the map online, but it is striking for the generally low level of reported crime. The highest category of crime shown in the map - for some areas of Tokyo and Osaka - is "38 to 71 total crimes per 1000 people". Rainy Matsue's region is coloured dark green, putting it in the second lowest category at "7 to 11.8 crimes per 1000 people."

It is difficult to find overall crime statistics for Australia, but a spreadsheet from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research gives 2006 crime rates in categories, and if we exclude the traffic and liquor crimes the average crime rate in NSW is 85 per 1000 people. That's right folks, average crime rates in NSW are higher than Japan's maximum, and 10 times Matsue's recorded rate in the same year.

Some researchers have suggested that crime recording in Japan leaves a little to be desired, and is not entirely comparable with western crime rates, and some people have argued that even supposedly concrete measures of crime - like homicide rates - can't be trusted here due to the unwillingness (and inability ) of police to do autopsies. But the lived experience here supports the statistics (this is my fancy way of saying "the numbers feel right to me!") The place feels safer than anywhere I have ever been, and certainly the best colour to paint a map of this country would be exactly the shade of dark green on its current crime map...

As for the reason for all this, who can say? I cannot fathom why Japan's crime rate is so much lower than other countries'. The decline seems explicable though - the population is ageing, so one would expect most major categories of crime to be on decline as well.

As an aside, the absence of autopsies here interests me. It is possible that a lot of murders here go unnoticed because no autopsy is conducted even for an unusual or suspicious death , and certainly there is a recent case of a Sumo wrestler who was murdered and would have been passed off as a heart attack had his family not insisted on an autopsy. This would certainly serve to reduce the reported murder rate. I wonder though, if by doing so the police are contributing to a general sense that Japan is a safe and communal place, which in turn causes ordinary people to be less suspicious and trigger happy, and therefore makes society safer. If so, such a situation would contrast markedly with the view of some supporters of the death penalty, that a few innocent deaths are okay if the existence of the death penalty drives down murder rates overall (they become a kind of sacrifice for the public good). I somehow suspect death penalty advocates would not be so willing to apply the same logic if it could be shown that not prosecuting some crime - in fact pretending it never happened - would lower crime rates overall.


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