Getting paid for doing the right thing

February 15th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

The website that explains the anonymous reporting procedure doesn't mention rewards...yet

A police Web site outlines the anonymous reporting procedure

Last week some newspapers reported that the National Police Agency will begin accepting anonymous tips related to suspected cases of child abuse and that the agency will pay up to ¥100,000 in reward money for any tips that lead to an arrest. This is news because in the past the police did not accept anonymous reports for child abuse cases, much less offer money in return for such information, and the media has speculated that the sudden turnaround indicates desperation in the face of the death of 7-year-old Kaito Okamoto on Jan. 24.

The boy’s parents have been accused of beating him, and it turns out that at least one neighbor had heard beatings taking place for the past year. In addition, a hospital that treated him had him in its care for a week and did not call the police, though they are required to do so if they suspect that a patient is the victim of abuse. Even staff at Kaito’s school apparently suspected something was wrong but didn’t say anything.

The hotline that the police will use for the anonymous tips was actually set up for reports of other suspected crimes involving children, such as trafficking, drug abuse, prostitution and illegal working conditions. Under the Child Welfare Act, people who suspect child abuse is taking place are required by law to report it to the police, but apparently that didn’t work in Kaito’s case. When a report of child abuse is made directly to a police station, the receiving officer takes the name of the person making the report, and most people don’t want to get involved, especially if the suspected abuser is a neighbor. But it’s the cash angle that deserves discussion. After all, rewards for information leading to the capture of fugitives, which are commonplace in the West, have never been encouraged in Japan.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the NPA started offering rewards for tips leading to the resolutions of several old robbery and murder cases that were about to “go cold” in accordance with the statute of limitations. In the past, any rewards offered for tips came from families of victims or retired police officer associations.

The case of Lindsay Hawker, the British teacher murdered in 2007, may have made rewards a permament part of police procedure. Due to pressure from Hawker’s father, who put up his own reward, as well as the Japanese media, the police upped the reward for information leading to the capture of the fugitive, Tatsuya Ichihashi, from ¥1 million to ¥10 million in June 2009. Five months later, Ichihashi was found in Kobe thanks to tips from several people.

Of course, the hotline rewards are different. The Hawker reward was offered to catch a suspect in a crime that already happened, and the hotline rewards are meant to prevent something terrible from happening. What’s significant is that the police now believe that citizens need a monetary incentive to do the right thing.

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