Public trust in police damaged by failure

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has released three suspects arrested on charges of attempted murder in connection with the shooting of then National Police Agency Commissioner General Takaji Kunimatsu in March 1995.

The investigation was believed to have been made after thorough preparations that obtained convincing evidence. The result, however, went against expectations. The police should reorganize their investigative team and again aim to uncover the truth behind the shooting.

The three suspects released included a former officer of the Metropolitan Police Department, who was once a member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. The three were freed and the charges against them stayed. The prosecutors not only failed to identify who shot the NPA chief, but could not even determine whether the shooting was committed on the instructions of the cult.

The incident in which the nation’s top police officer was targeted drew immense public attention. It is unusual that suspects were arrested on charges related to such a major incident, but that prosecutors failed to bring them before a court.

It was not the first time that the police investigated the former MPD officer. Eight years ago, he was investigated after he said he shot Kunimatsu because he was told to do so by a senior cult member. But his statements changed again and again, and included a number of irregularities. The investigation was eventually stopped.

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Conflicting statements

This time, investigations started after the former MPD officer said he had let a man, believed to be the shooter, borrow his coat. But after he was arrested, he made different statements. Again, he made fools of the investigators.

The MPD investigated several former senior members of the cult who had been sentenced to death for murdering lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family among other crimes. But the police failed to make any significant progress in their investigation as the convicted former Aum members and two other members, who were arrested over the 1995 shooting of the NPA chief, all denied their involvement.

In fact, there was no new convincing information or evidence relating to the 1995 incident. Authorities could hardly put the suspects on trial as they lacked information and evidence investigators could use in grilling the suspects. They also found the confessions by the former MPD officer to be unreliable.

Why did investigators take such a big gamble with little prospect of success at this time? Did they intend to bring an end to their investigations of the former police officer that had continued intermittently for eight years?

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Failures feed anxiety

Criticism has been heard even from within the police that investigations were based on mere presumptions. The nation is facing a situation in recent years in which an increasing number of atrocious crimes are being committed and fewer crimes are being solved.

As long as the police conduct investigations that result in failure as the latest case has at such a critical time for the nation, people’s confidence in the police will be further hurt and their anxiety over public safety will increase.

The 1995 incident has been investigated mainly by the MPD’s Public Security Bureau, which is in charge of cases related to terrorist and radical activities. Their investigation style is characterized like this–they map out the entangled web of crime links based on tips obtained from informed sources. Some observers pointed out that bureau investigators made insufficient efforts to obtain eyewitness reports and physical evidence, elements vital in criminal investigations.

It has also been pointed out that there was discord existing between the Public Security Bureau and the Criminal Investigation Bureau over such matters as sharing of information obtained through investigations. If there truly is confrontation like this inside the MPD, it could have a serious impact on the future of public safety in the nation.

The statute of limitations on the 1995 murder attempt will expire in five years and eight months. We must not allow this case to be brought to an end without the truth being revealed, especially because this case is one that has challenged the nation’s public safety. From now on, the true value of the nation’s police will be tested.

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