Tokyo — Minutes after gunning down an underworld rival in the street, gang leader Takayuki Kumakura quietly presented himself at the nearest police station to make a full confession.
It merited a few paragraphs in Tokyo newspapers, but only because gun battles on the street are not a daily occurrence here.
Kumakura's ready owning-up to his crime and acceptance of the consequences is pretty much par for the course in Japan.
It is one of the factors that makes a Japanese policeman's lot considerably easier than his American colleague's. And it also helps explain their great success rate in solving most categories of crime.
The crime ratE, in fact, rose last year to its highest level since 1965, causing expressions of serious concern at the National Police Agency (NPA). And yet by all international standards, Tokyo remains one of the safest, most crime-free major cities in the world.
LAw enforcement authorities last year reported investigating 1.4 million criminal (nontraffic) offenses, an increase of just over 69,000 from the previous year, Tokyo, with 10 percent of the national population, accounted for 17 percent of all crimes.
Nationally, almost 60 percent of all crimes were solved, although Tokyo police are deeply unhappy that their settlement rate fell from 49 to 47 percent. [Correspondent Julia Malone writes from Washington that by comparison, in the US in 1979, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 20 percent of all reported crimes were "cleared"; that is, a suspect was arrested. This is, of course, vastly differently from a conviction being obtained.]
[The FBI no longer keeps figures on conviction rates, but in 1977, the last year it did so, 80 percent of all those arrested were tried and of those, 76 percent were convicted, in some cases on lesser charges. This means roughly 61 percent of those arrested were convicted on some charge.]
Thefts remain the most difficult crimes for the Japanese to solve, while murders continued to produce convictions in 9 cases out of 10. [In the US in 1979, 9 reported murders out of 10 were "cleared." The figures for other kinds of crime in 1979 were as follows: rape, 48 percent; robberies, 25 percent; burglaries, 15 percent; thefts, 19 percent; motor vehicle thefts, 14 percent.]
Theft and fraud cases in Japan have been climbing steadily over the years, but violent crimes have been declining for 16 straight years.
Japan's gun laws are extremely strict -- following the controls laid down by the American occupation. Possession of firearms is a grave offense. In 1978, for example, of 68 bank robberies reported in Japan, only six involved guns. Permits for hunting rifles are strictly controlled and issued only after an applicant attends a course run by the police.
The Japanese are amazed at the ready availability of guns in the United States and the way this seems to contribute to high rates of violent crime.
Overall crime statistics show that in 1979, for every 100,000 people, there were nine murders in the United States (compared to 1.6 in Japan), 191.3 burglaries (1.7 in Japan), 225.9 personal injury cases (25.1 in Japan), and 4, 622.4 thefts (986.9 in Japan).
Western criminologists have by now determined most of the factors at work in keeping Japan a relatively crime-free society.
There is the great homogeneity of the people, with virtually none of the ethnic and racial tensions at work in US cities. Wealth is broadly distributed so there are few really genuine "have-nots."
There is the large network of formal and informal groups, starting from the classroom and extending to the office and factory. Some observers go so far as to say membership in these groups is more important than individuality. The emphasis on teamwork and the support Japanese offer each other discourages the committing of crimes that could bring "shame" on the group.
The same applies within the family, where a fugitive is less likely to be sheltered from the law, but rather encouraged to surrender and make a clean breast of things.
There is the general Japanese acceptance and respect for authority, so that police expect and receive full cooperation in solving crimes. This extends to the creation of neighborhood crime-fighting associations, which quickly report crimes or the presence of suspicious strangers to the nearest police box (koban).
The koban plays a vital role in Japanese society. It is the hub of each small district. The policemen assigned to each box are like the old-fashioned British bobby on his beat, known to all, ever ready with friendly advice.
Each is required to know his small patch intimately, calling at homes periodically (especially in the big cities) to see who is living there, learning about neighborhood problems, participating in school committees, and generally acting in a way that earns respect.
Senior NPA officials, however, have become worried at the growing incidence of policemen involved in crimes, which has also led to a lessening of public respect. When a young policeman confessed to raping and murdering a university student here three years ago, his chief immediately resigned to accept responsibility.
Because of an upsurge in misconduct cases, the training period for rookie police has been increased from one year to 21 months so that the "spiritual" as well as the technical side of the work can be stressed more.
Japanese police pride themselves on the high level of confidence-creating public service they offer, especially in reacting to emergency calls.
Anyone dialing "110" will, according to the latest official statistics, have a patrol car on the doorstep on average in 4 minutes, 58 seconds, in eight leading cities (4 minutes, 54 seconds, in Tokyo).
another aid to an easier life for police is the lack of hostile acts in public. Living in tight quarters, the Japanese have formed elaborate rules to prevent friction and violence.
Although in theory an arrested man is presumed innocent until found guilty, in fact, Japanese police don't make an arrest unless they are prettysure of conviction -- an attitude that the press and public accept. Japanese police believe confesion is the king of evidence, and judges (there are no juries) place great stress on such written documents.
As a result the conviction rate in Japan is 99.7 percent.
Thus, interrogation is of prime importance, with an emphasis on full confession and repentance in the hope of mitigating the eventual sentence.
The fact that a suspect can held incommunicado without bail for up to 23 days after arrest also helps to break down resistance to a persistent interrogator -- especially as Japanese jails are not noted for thei r home conforts.