Police rewards result in arrests, and some frustration

June 22nd, 2012 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Not so easy money: Wanted posters outside koban near Okachimachi Station

The idea of offering “rewards” for information leading to the arrest of a criminal fugitive didn’t really take off in Japan until the Lindsay Hawker murder case. In 2009, two years after the young English teacher was killed, the police offered a ¥10 million bounty for any leads, and five months later her killer was apprehended thanks to several tips. According to media reports the reward was divided among four persons. Previously, the prevailing wisdom was that offering monetary incentives to the public for helping police catch suspects was mercenary and thus unacceptable, but results are results, and the system now seems firmly in place after the recent series of arrests of suspects in the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack of 1995.

The three remaining Aum fugitives have all been captured in the last six months, two of them since the National Police Agency increased the reward for useful information from ¥3 million to ¥10 million in February. There has been speculation that the increase was actually occasioned by the arrest of the first Aum suspect, Makoto Hirata, in December. The police subsequently intensified their search for the other two fugitives, which the public had every right to believe had previously been lax given the almost comical circumstances surrounding Hirata’s surrender. However, old attitudes die hard, and the reward system is still in a state of evolution. For one thing, two terms are being used interchangeably, hoshokin and kenshokin, both of which also mean “prize.” Perhaps the authorities can’t decide because they feel the two words send the wrong message.

The Metropolitan Police Agency won’t release the names of the informants who may receive the rewards, though the media has been busy trying to describe them. Information about the whereabouts of Naoko Kikuchi was received by the police the morning of June 3, and they arrested her later that day, though others have said they offered tips about Kikuchi much earlier. Apparently, someone, reportedly a neighbor, brought the tip to the police, though it’s not clear if that person will receive a reward.

Shukan Post has reported that one informant had some sort of relationship with Kikuchi’s live-in boyfriend, who was also arrested. The guidelines state that blood relatives of fugitives cannot receive rewards for tips, presumably because they are expected to know something about the whereabouts of kin. Other circumstances that disqualifies an informant for a reward is if the person is an “accomplice” to the crime or in the law enforcement field, or if the tip was obtained illegally.

The reward for the capture of Katsuya Takahashi on June 15 also remains up in the air, owing to the peculiar series of events leading up to the arrest. An informant went to a koban (police box) in the Omori district of Tokyo at 4:30 am on June 15, saying that he had seen someone resembling Takahashi patronizing a manga kissa (comic book cafe) in Nishi Kamata several days earlier. The tip was conveyed to the Omori police station, but the station didn’t act on it immediately because, as police told reporters, it was already several days old.

The delay turned out to be fortuitous. Two officers were finally dispatched to the cafe at around 8:30 a.m., four hours after the informant went to the koban. They asked the clerk if he had seen Takahashi and the clerk matter-of-factly pointed at a customer, saying the customer had arrived around 6 a.m. Suspecting he was the fugitive, the clerk had confirmed his appearance on the Internet. At first, the police didn’t see the resemblance, but the clerk, perhaps thinking of the reward, insisted it was him. When Takahashi left the cafe, the police stopped him about 15 meters from the door and asked him for identification. He admitted to being the man they were looking for.

Tokyo Shimbun has said that two people will split the reward, presumably the first person who went to the Omori koban with the tip, and the cafe clerk. However, there is also speculation that the clerk will receive nothing since he didn’t volunteer the information. He simply responded to the two officers’ inquiry when they arrived at the cafe. In other words, to get the reward, the informant must be proactive. However, one could make an argument that had the clerk not been so insistent the police would have left without arresting Takahashi. Commentators on the Internet are calling the clerk the real hero of the incident, but the police seem to have their own way of thinking.

Update (June 24): According to this morning’s Asahi Shimbun, the police received about 1,800 tips regarding Takahashi during the eleven-day period prior to his arrest. More interesting, the man who provided the fateful bit of info the morning of the arrest purposely went to the Omori koban at 4 am because he wanted to give the tip to a specific officer who had helped him in the past. That’s why he waited several days.

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