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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Stop and Frisk by the Japanese Police


Japanese passerby gets questioned and searched by a policeman.
A man (face obscured for privacy) is randomly stopped and searched by a policeman outside Yotsuya Station 
I was witness a couple of days ago to a‘stop and frisk’(shokumu shitsumon) incident by the Japanese police outside Yotsuya Station. It was about 1:30 pm on a bright sunny day in Yotsuya - a district that, of generally trouble-free Tokyo, has to be one of the metropolis's least troubled areas.

I was waiting for the traffic lights to cross the road, and saw most of it. The policeman (as a matter of course armed with a pistol) was polite but clearly insistent, and spent the best part of at least a minute looking and feeling inside the passerby's bag, asking him questions all the while.

If the man being search fit some kind of profile, then it was a very subtley designed profile, because he was by no means your textbook criminal looking type. In fact, he positively radiated decency in his demeanor, was at least equally polite as the policeman searching him, and very cooperative.

However the clear insistence and obtrusiveness of what was going on - and in a setting, right outside a railway station gate, that could hardly be more public - made the almost excessive politeness on both their parts awkward and difficult to watch.

Shokumu shitsumon situation in Yotsuya, Tokyo, Japan.
Policeman patting down bystander as part of random check, Yotsuya, Tokyo
Judging by the faces of a couple of people near the station entrance observing what was going on, the actions of the policeman were not justified. If I had seen other police up and down Shinjuku-dori doing the same that day it would have made more sense as being part of a bigger investigation, but there was no evidence of that at all. This just seemed like an individual policeman picking a susceptible-looking citizen at random and subjecting him to a probing, insistent, physical and verbal search that was no less distasteful for being conducted without overt aggression.

Japanese police stop people at random a lot. It's happened to me only three or four times in the 20 or so years I have been in Japan, but there is definite racial profiling, meaning a lot of friends and acquaintances are stopped regularly, whether walking or driving.

A quick search online revealed the following JapanTimes article about shokumu shitsumon, written by a member of the Tokyo Public Law Office, and  that everyone living in Japan would do well to read.

The last paragraph gives good advice: that if subject to a sudden "stop and frisk" on the street, while cooperation is probably the best response, you are by no means obliged to even stop, but may continue walking while talking to the police officer(s) and, for good measure, recording what is going on using your phone - just in case.

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