Hi Blog. What follows is an account from a NJ writer friend who has a street-scuffle dispute (with his aitekata demanding money from him) being mediated by the police. Or kinda that, as he writes. With some interesting indications that data from mere investigations goes down on an actual criminal record. Blogged with permission. Arudou Debito
DISPUTE MEDIATION (OR ALLEGED FACSIMILE) BY CHIBA POLICE
IS FOREIGNNESS BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF BY ATARIYA?
By Anonymous, name withheld on request
Background (via my attempt to be objective)
In September of 2007 at about 11:30 p.m., I was on my way home on my bicycle when I had a collision at an intersection with another bicyclist (Japanese). It was extremely minor; we both hit our brakes in enough time that there were no injuries or damage with not even enough force for either of us to be dislodged from our bikes. My Japanese is minimal and when he began yelling and gesturing I decided to leave. His reaction was to attack in what I now suspect was an attempt to physically subdue me; fisticuffs ensued.
The result: If your assessment of a fight is who “wins,” then I suppose I came out on top. However, I do not normally subscribe to such means of conflict resolution and to the best of my knowledge haven’t had such an experience since grade school. Neither of us received serious damage – no breaks, strains or cuts – but his swollen face was more obvious (and greater) than my injuries. We were both (I’m told) taken to the local police station. On the way, I called a friend (gaikokujin) fluent in Japanese who insisted on coming to the police station to translate.
I repeatedly asked to file a complaint against my attacker, who I had reason to suspect, from the way the fight started and proceeded, had knowingly set himself up to appear as a victim despite the actual events. I was first told the questioning process I was then undergoing included that. Another officer later said I would be called in later to do so. What ensued over the weeks to come were a series of calls between Japanese (or Japanese-speaking) friends, the police and the other party and his friends in which authorities refused to take any legal action, insisting that we “work it out,” which as time progressed became increasingly clear that I was expected to pay him money. I refused. This culminated between myself, a translator I secured and the opponent and his friend (who made a not-too-subtly-veiled threat about the future well being of my family if I didn’t pay up) that solidified my refusal to pay any money.
That was November 2007; in May 2008 I was informed that since my opponent was not satisfied with the outcome, official proceedings would commence, i.e., I was required to come in and make an official response to his claim and file my own. (When I got there, I insisted that I file my own complaint before I answer any questions about his; the detective agreed though I am not sure in what order the two 8-hour series of interviews were officially recorded as much of my statements and answers to questions did not appear in the repeatedly revised victim report that the translator read back to me).
During the July 10 round of interviews I pressed the detective to tell me why, after so long, we were now taking formal procedures after they had refused my request to do so earlier. He repeatedly avoided answering the question (as he had done over the phone – via the translator – and on July 4) and, at that time, on the third such attempt I asked the translator to cut him off and tell him to answer the question directly. He said that normal procedure requires police to give such parties “time” to settle their disputes but after a certain time had elapsed he (not the original officers/detectives handling the case) deemed it time to call my alleged assailant first to ask him if he was happy with the outcome.
For the record, the detective, Koseki-san, who was now handling the case, refused to include any of the accounts in my victim report that may have indicated that my alleged attacker purposely tried to appear as a victim despite my allegations that he initiated and sustained the fight, though he did volunteer that he, and presumably the law, were well aware of extortion scams that fit the bill. (He insisted this was more appropriate for my response to my opponent’s victim report, despite my insistence that it was the very nature of my complaint as a victim.) This includes my recollection that my opponent would strike me only after looking around to ensure no one was watching. His reasoning for omitting such allegations: 1) “XXX-san, don’t you think he has suffered enough?” and 2) How can this be proved?
It’s also worth noting that at one point I lambasted Koseki-san for the way Chiba police had thus far handled this case suggesting that it boarded on negligence if not bias. His response was to admit that the way the case was initially handled was “negligent” (via the translator) but he insisted that there was no bias. My response after earlier politely pointing out that he continually referred to my opponent to the translator as “Nihonjin” (who translated it as “the other party”) and confirming that when talking with my opponent he referred to me as “gaikokujin” (though he insisted appologetically that there was no ill intent – then continued to refer to the former as such): “not all bias is intentional.”
You may recall a minor brawl I had with a guy after an even more minor bicycle accident back in September. Well, I got a call from Chiba police in Urayasu in May informing me that they had recently talked to the guy and since he was not satisfied with our attempts to ‘work it out on our own’ (i.e. I still refuse to pay him money) mutual formal complaints must be filed to take it to the next level.
This resulted in two full days, July 4 and 10, at the police station in Shin Urayasu of relatively congenial interviews to fill out the higaisha choshou (victim report) and kyojutsu choshou (personal-background [an odd if not archaic experience] and offender’s report).
1) While I had gotten people – including my wife – to translate for me before, regarding this matter, I decided that, although she was now with me in spirit she was correct in her assessment that her language skills were inadequate for such an official task. I had her tell the police, in no uncertain terms, that this was the case. Low-and-behold they managed to come up with a translator that I later learned was employed by Chiba Prefecture government for just such occasions (though before police had said translators were not at their disposal). However, this is a minor point.
2) At the second round of interviews I was asked to move to the next stage that consisted of being fingerprinted and photographed. After all, I was told, this was a standard procedure that the person (Japanese) I had got in the fight with had already been through. I asked what would happen with the data afterward and was told it would go into the NPA criminal database. I raised the question of whether this was tantamount to being identified as a criminal with a de facto record before due process and conviction of any crime and said, “No.” This got the young detective scratching his head; he went to seek advice from a superior while the translator commented that in his 10+ years of doing this work such a question had never come up and that essentially it was a good point. The detective returned to say that although this was how they always handle such cases I was not under arrest and not required by law to submit to the procedure. If I would consent to return for it IF and after prosecutors deemed me guilty of a crime (though, in my mind that should also include a judicial decision) we could forego the process until later. I said that works for me for now and left it at that. The day wrapped up with me pointing out points of interest at the scene of the incident. As we said our goodbyes I asked one last question: “If I had submitted to being fingerprinted and photographed and prosecutors later deem the case worthy of no further action would my data be removed from NPA’s criminal database.” His answer, after consulting with a colleague on the scene (via the translator): “It would remain in the database, however, there would be an attachment that said, ‘case not prosecuted.’” In a land where impressions carry far more weight than fact, this is a woefully inadequate outcome for any suspect with no criminal record or history.
So, my concern here is: 1) how many people – Japanese as well as foreigners – with no official criminal record may be treated otherwise because of such standard procedures in subsequent encounters with police and the legal system? And 2) everyone, especially foreigners who seem to have a clear disadvantage in law-and-order matters that involve a contest with a Japanese person, should know that despite “standard procedure” they are apparently not required by Japanese law to have their fingerprints and photo logged into the National Police Agency’s criminal database unless they have actually been convicted of a crime. It’s apparently info police don’t readily volunteer (or, in some cases, even know about).
I hope this is of some use. Feel free to post it, in full or in part, online. ANONYMOUS