For dealing with certain matters where the police can't -- or won't -- take action, there's a new sheriff in town.
Writing in Jitsuwa Knuckles (October), a monthly magazine specializing in Japan's subculture, Yuri Suzuki introduces the Zen-Nippon Minkan Keisatsu, which goes by the English name Nippon Civilian Police (NCP).
NCP's founder, Shuichi Araki, previously lived in the United States and claims to be the only Japanese national ever licensed to work there as a bounty hunter. Araki explains that NCP, which he established in 2006, is a "civilian police organization" accorded legal recognition by the government.
Araki's operation currently employs about 70 "troops," who work out of branches in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities. A photo accompanying the article shows a back view of an NCP member in a distinctive field jacket, carrying a riot baton in one hand and a pair of handcuffs in the other.
"NCP is completely different from both private security firms and volunteer street patrol groups," he tells Jitsuwa Knuckles. "Some of our members are out on the street every day to safeguard citizens' safety. Our main function is to perform tasks that the police, as a public entity, are unable to do. But we're not subordinate to the Tokyo MPD -- we're completely separate."
Araki stresses that NCP was set up with the full blessing of MPD headquarters, owing largely to his overseas-acquired knowhow in tracking down fugitives. Another reason, he says, is because police are legally hamstrung from performing stings and other types of undercover operations and are receptive to assistance from NCP.
One NCP member, identified only as "G," operates incognito out of a shop in a drinking area.
"It's hard to generalize the type of cases I've handled, which have ranged from fraud to missing persons to tracking fugitives," says G. "We get scuttlebutt from a network of bars in entertainment districts, not only here in Tokyo but from Hokkaido to Okinawa."
When NCP operatives assist in apprehensions, they are entitled to receive relatively small (50,000 yen) cash rewards offered by the police.
"There are lots of tasks the police are unable to deal with," G points out. "Some, they will delegate to us. I can't go into detail, but some cases may skirt the boundaries of legality. For example, at our discretion we might tie up with IT or communications companies to conduct investigations that the government is not empowered to do. Without taking such measures, there would be no way to catch the perpetrators in the act."
But "G" admits that setting up a sting can, in worst cases, also result in getting stung in return. "As it stands, you might even get killed. But that's the way it is," he shrugs fatalistically.
According to Araki, activities of private securities firms in Japan are governed by a specific law, but no law currently exists for civilian police, so he operates in a gray area. "For example, if we were to turn in a suspect who was later proved innocent, we could be vulnerable to legal action," he says. "We have to enforce self discipline on the one hand; at the same time, we are presently going through government channels to have our status taken up in the Diet."
"In the eyes of the citizens, Japan's police are unreliable and cannot be depended upon for protection, wouldn't you say?" Araki asserts. "Take incidents involving stalking, some of which are clearly criminal acts. The police won't do anything because they claim it's just too troublesome to intervene in what they insist are 'civil affairs.' We make a case for action by bridging civil affairs with criminal cases."
Araki believes Japan's young people, in particular, are inclined to feel outrage when injustices are perpetrated.
"NCP is hoping to recruit more determined young people," he says. "That’s why we've lowered our minimum age requirement from the present 18 years to 16."© Japan Today