According to Japan’s National Police Agency, the number of shoplifting cases on record has been at a steady high for the past 10 years or so. In 2012 there were a total of 135,000 documented cases nation-wide. Granted, Japan’s crime rate is less than one-fourth that of the United States according to some sources, but it still ranks in as having the sixth highest crime rate in the world. For shoplifting in particular, the problem appears to lie less with the will of the law enforcement and more with the attitudes of society. Many individuals will become angry and defensive on behalf of the thieving criminals, as though having beat the shop’s security system makes it acceptable to have stolen something in the first place! This has caused quite a few problems for security officials.
One example of small-scale theft comes from a certain large-scale shopping center in Japan. People take carts containing rice or liquor out into the parking lot under the guise of having forgotten their wallets in the car. Then, somewhat unsurprisingly, they load up their trunks and drive off without paying. Some people might say that if the store is going to let would-be customers take merchandise out to their cars before having paid for it, then they’re just asking to be taken advantage of, but let’s try not to blame the victim here.
It’s been shown in a 2011 study by the NPO that if caught in the act of shoplifting, most adult perpetrators will refuse to acknowledge any level of wrongdoing and will instead become violently angry. The study also revealed that having to pursue a shoplifter for too great a distance is off-putting to the store’s employees. So, in order to avoid conflict, shopping centers, like the one mentioned above, put their faith in the customers while putting themselves at a greater risk of theft.
One method being used to curtail shoplifting is dispatching security guards dressed in regular civilians’ clothes. This makes it much easier to catch shoplifters in the act. Unfortunately, this method has met a new hurdle in the form of modern technology. Japanese security correspondent, Mr. Ishihara, explains, “Young people use their cell phones to take pictures of casually dressed security guards and send it to their shoplifting cohorts as a heads-up. Being discovered is quite troublesome. And, even when the kids are caught red-handed, the children’s parents will argue things like ‘If my child stole that game, then isn’t it you who needs to tighten up security?’ and become angry on behalf of the miscreant. They won’t acknowledge that their child has done something wrong.”
In one Osakan fish market, where shoplifting is ever-prevalent, shop owners have taken matters into their own hands by posting pictures of shoplifters in their storefronts. However, when a discount store in Gunma Prefecture’s Takasaki City tried a similar method the region’s Legal Affairs Bureau declared that doing so lacked concern for the basic human rights of those individuals. Thus, the store ended its practice of identifying thieves. Apparently, criminals in Gunma have a greater right to protect their image than stores have to protect their merchandise.
Japan will certainly continue its defense against shoplifters, whether in the form of hired hands or the storefront shaming of offenders. It can be difficult to reconcile measures necessary for crime prevention with the protection of people’s privacy and human rights, but if there is a balance, Japan will work to find it.