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Japan to introduce camera software to aid prosecutors
Publication Date : 09-01-2013
Japan's Public Prosecutors Office plans to introduce image analysis software at all of its 50 district offices nationwide to make better use of video footage from security cameras at criminal trials, according to sources.
Analysing security camera images and identifying people captured in the images could not only lead to arrests of suspects but also become strong evidence to prove their guilt.
Amid growing calls for investigations that do not depend on suspects' confessions obtained through interrogations, judicial authorities and prosecutors have made a budgetary request of about 94 million yen (US$1.07 million) for fiscal 2013 to procure such software and related equipment.
The number of security cameras installed across the nation is unknown, but according to the Japan Security Systems Association, the domestic security camera market was worth 136 billion yen in 2010, 2.7 times larger than that of 20 years ago. More surveillance cameras have been placed at locations such as stations, shopping districts and apartment buildings, the association said.
The release of clear images of Katsuya Takahashi, a 54-year-old former member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult who had been on a special wanted list, helped police gather information from the public and eventually arrest the fugitive in June after 17 years on the run. The images were captured by a security camera at a shinkin credit union bank.
Security camera video footage also has been instrumental in establishing suspects' guilt. In the district and high court rulings for a 2007 robbery in which a tiara and other items were stolen from a jewellry shop in Ginza, Tokyo, the image analysis results were recognised as evidence that members of an international robbery gang called "Pink Panthers" were guilty.
Also at a trial for a series of arsons that occurred in Tokyo in 2007 and 2008, the Tokyo High Court overturned a lower court decision and found the defendant guilty in 2009, saying an analysis of images from security cameras placed near crime scenes showed the defendant was the culprit.
On the other hand, in a 2004 robbery that left the then chief judge of the Osaka District Court seriously injured, the district court found the height and other physical appearances of two defendants did not match those of assailants caught in video footage from a security camera near the crime scene. The 2006 ruling was upheld by higher courts, acquitting the defendants. At the trial, investigators were criticised for having overlooked an analysis of security camera images and other scientific investigative methods to obtain objective evidence.
Previously, prosecutors decided whether to indict suspects and submitted evidence to courts based on reports from police that included partial images already selected by the police. The prosecutors mostly left the task of analysing such images to police investigators.
By equipping prosecutors offices with image analysis software and relevant devices, prosecutors would be able to respond more appropriately and swiftly in investigations and trials.
A senior Justice Ministry official said, "To verify police investigations, it's important for prosecutors to become capable of analysing image data."