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.Reuse content