Is social exhaustion behind belief that public safety is getting worse?

Crime continues to decline, yet people do not feel that they are living in a time of safety. Does social precarity, seen in widening inequality and the large number of suicides, have a psychological impact on people’s perceptions?

In questionnaire survey results released recently by the National Police Agency, when people were asked, “Do you think public safety in Japan has improved in the last 10 years?” a 64% majority answered, “It has gotten worse.” Compared to a similar survey conducted in the previous year, the percentage of people who felt public safety had worsened increased.

The number of recognized criminal offenses reached a peak of about 2.85 million cases in 2002 and has continued to decrease. Last year, the figure was about 560,000, the lowest since the end of World War II. It can be said statistics show that public safety has improved.

Nearly 80% of the respondents who said public safety had deteriorated recalled cases of indiscriminate killings. Before the latest survey was conducted in November last year, a man brandished a knife aboard an Odakyu Line train, and another man wielded a knife and started a fire on a Keio Line train, both in Tokyo, slightly or seriously injuring many passengers.

After the incidents, the suspects reportedly said, “I am the only one who is living an unhappy life” or “I failed in my job.” After a series of incidents in public places, many people may have felt a visceral sense that they or their family members could be victimized at any time.

Even this year, people have been injured in indiscriminate attacks, such as one in which a boy stabbed three people, including examinees of the Common Test for University Admissions, in front of the University of Tokyo. Some experts say the suspects are trying to make their presence felt by retaliating against a society in which they had suffered setbacks.

Unlike the era of constant economic growth, there is now an atmosphere in which it can seem that once people fail, they cannot start over again. There is a need to change such a trend and create a society in which people can take on new challenges.

The solidarity of local communities has weakened and the shape of the family also is changing. How to teach people what they are allowed to do and what they must not do, and the minimum requirements for living in society is another challenge.

According to the NPA survey, more than 60% of respondents said they felt public safety had worsened due to so-called specialized fraud such as bank transfer fraud, and child abuse. In fact, the number of specialized fraud cases increased last year for the first time in four years. The number of child abuse cases reported to the police also reached a record high last year.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has increased the length of time people spend at home, there may be an increasing number of cases in which elderly people living alone have been targeted and family problems have emerged.

Some people say that they have no one nearby to talk to about their worries or ask for help. The police need to work in cooperation with local communities to strengthen patrols and encourage residents to help each other, in addition to detecting and cracking down on incidents.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 10, 2022.