Japanese up in arms as police dare to use guns

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The Independent Online
BULLETS have been flying in Japan recently and, to the horror of private citizens, the police have been doing the shooting. Policemen have used their weapons in two incidents in the past week, jolting a society that is largely gun-free and where violent crime is the exception rather than the rule.

Japanese police carry guns but pride themselves on not using them. Recently, however, this compromise has come under threat from anti- social elements who dared to resist the long arm of the law. Last Thursday, when a car ran through a police checkpoint in Chiba, north of Tokyo, and rammed a patrol car and three other vehicles, a policeman gave chase and shot out the car's tyres.

Hardly a case of irresponsible gun-slinging on the part of the patrolman but, to avoid any misunderstanding, the police station put out a special statement to explain why shots were fired. They were necessary, it said politely, because the fleeing driver represented a threat to life on the road. The driver of the car was arrested and turned out to be a teenager without a driving licence.

Hardly had the echo of the ricochets died down when police were again forced to use 'deadly force', in a confrontation with pickpockets that turned violent. On Tuesday police tried to arrest a gang of pickpockets in a crowded train station in Tokyo but the men resisted with knives and tear-gas.

One policeman fired a warning shot in the air and then shot twice at the legs of one of the suspects who was brandishing a weapon. He was later taken to hospital and two of his accomplices were arrested.

Getting tough for a Japanese policeman rarely means anything more than ticking off a pedestrian for jay-walking or steering a drunken salaryman out of harm's way in a bar. For a policeman to be forced to fire his pistol is still so uncommon that it is a newsworthy event. Craig Parker, a professor of criminal law in the US who has written a book on the Japanese police system, interviewed 50 policemen in Tokyo in the early Eighties: only one had drawn his gun in the line of duty and even then he had not fired it.