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Japan's revised gang law put into effect

Publication Date : 31-10-2012


As police crackdown in Kitakyushu, success hinges on trust of residents

The revised Antigang Law took effect in Japan yesterday, allowing authorities to label certain designated crime syndicates as repeat offenders against companies and shops, and immediately arrest members who make unlawful demands.

The success of the revision will depend on whether police can build and maintain the trust of local citizens. The efficacy of the revised law will be tested in terms of curbing gang activities such as illegal fund-raising—particularly in Fukuoka Prefecture, which has been hit by a series of brutal incidents involving gang members.

Recently, in Kokura-Kita Ward, Kitakyushu, police officers have regularly patrolled the streets in an entertainment district that is often visited by gang members.

"These days, gang members aren't as showy as they were before," a local restaurant owner said. "But we've heard they still frequent certain bars and restaurants."

Two years ago, the Fukuoka prefectural government pioneered implementing an ordinance that prohibits companies and individuals from providing crime syndicates with any benefits.

It also enacted another ordinance this past August under which gangsters are barred from entering eateries that display a sticker issued by the Fukuoka Public Safety Commission. Violators of the ordinance will be ordered to stop their behaviour or be fined.

The ordinance is expected to be effective in fighting gang organisations—the sticker has been posted at about 3,700 bars and restaurants in the prefecture.

Soon after the ordinance was enacted, however, eight cases of arson or assault at eateries that displayed the sticker were reported. In some cases, restaurant owners were attacked by a knife-wielding assailant. Additionally, about 120 eateries in and around Kitakyushu have received threatening calls demanding they remove the sticker.

"I'd like to kick out crime syndicates [from our community]. But I'm scared that I might become a target of their attacks," one female restaurant owner said.

In the five years up until 2011, crime syndicates nationwide attacked 101 companies and restaurants that tried to cut off ties. Thirteen such attacks have been reported from January through September.

Under the original Antigang Law—as well as the Fukuoka ordinance on the sticker—gang members can be arrested only if they are found not in compliance with orders to cease illegal activities. Therefore, some have called for improvements regarding this approach. Many people said they feel "uneasy" at the thought that gangsters are nearby.

The revised law enables prefectural public safety commissions to impose strict regulations on the activities of designated crime syndicates that have been labelled as repeat attackers of businesses or that have taken part in fierce battles with rival gangs. These organisations may express their opinions during the screening process when being labelled or file complaints afterward.

If a designated crime syndicate is labelled as a repeat attacker, their members can be arrested as soon as they extort contributions in the form of protection money, demand participation in public works projects or make other unlawful requests.

However, police can only do so after being informed by companies or eateries.

"Whether Fukuoka Prefecture's sticker scheme and the revised Antigang Law will be effective depends on if we can earn the trust of citizens," a senior National Police Agency (NPA) official said.

NPA Commissioner General Yutaka Katagiri said the outcome of the fight against crime syndicates in Fukuoka Prefecture will be a "key factor in affecting gangs nationwide."

As a result, the NPA has deployed about 8,000 riot police and other officers nationwide to Kitakyushu. It will consider drastically increasing the number of officers tasked with guarding potential targets of gangs.

To aid the fight against gangs, the Kitakyushu municipal government has replaced about 30 street lights with brighter light-emitting diodes. It will also install an additional 180 security cameras with the help of the prefectural government.

"Fewer people visit our city's entertainment districts," Mayor Kenji Kitahashi said. "We want to make these areas safer so people can enjoy themselves without fear."

One restaurant owner said he bears high costs to protect his employees, mainly by arranging for taxis to take home staff working the late shift.

"We'd be playing into the hands of crime syndicates if we give in now," he said. "I don't want them to do whatever they like in our community. I think this is a crucial moment for us."


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