Tragedy the result of complacency by police unused to such attacks / Establish a system appropriate for times of crisis

The mission of guarding very important persons is to protect the potential target at all costs. The police must face up to their painful failure to accomplish this task and build a system capable of responding to any crisis.

On Aug. 25, the National Police Agency (NPA) released a report on its examination into the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a review of the police’s VIP protection system.

Abe died July 8 after being shot from behind by suspect Tetsuya Yamagami while delivering a campaign speech in front of a train station in central Nara City to support a candidate from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the House of Councillors election.

Naive risk assessment

According to the report, Abe was girdled by three security guards from the Nara prefectural police and one from the Metropolitan Police Department, but none were looking southward to Abe’s rear side. It is indeed regrettable that a serious error allowed the shooting to occur, and Yamagami was able to approach Abe without anyone noticing.

This security “vacuum” came about because an officer who initially was meant to be on rear-lookout duty switched positions just before the speech began to guard the front and side of Abe where many people were gathered. The chief of the prefectural police’s security section — the commander at the scene — was not fully aware of this change.

Furthermore, the prefectural police followed the same security plan they had used in June, when the LDP secretary general gave a campaign speech at the same location, without deploying uniformed police officers.

The security risks were obvious, as there was a road running behind the speech site where cars and people could come and go. The advance planning was flawed in that importance was not placed on guarding this rear position. There is no doubt that the prefectural police’s lack of awareness had serious consequences.

On the other hand, the NPA is also deeply responsible for leaving the creation of the security plan to the prefectural police. The NPA is in a position to lead the nation’s police forces. However, as there have been no attacks on dignitaries in this country for many years, an environment may have developed within the NPA in which precedents were followed without careful thought.

NPA Commissioner General Itaru Nakamura and Tomoaki Onizuka, chief of the Nara prefectural police, both acknowledged the security failure and have expressed an intention to step down from their respective posts. Failing to prevent the shooting of Abe resulted in the worst possible outcome — the loss of life. Given that, the resignations were inevitable.

It must be said that the entire police organization was riddled with complacency. This was evident in the way they responded after the incident, too. The chief of the prefectural police did not attend a press conference on the day of the shooting; the following day he said the incident was “extremely regrettable.” The NPA commissioner general did not make a public statement until four days after the shooting.

Lack of swift response

Meanwhile, video footage of the crime scene was transmitted around the world via the internet and other means, making it possible for anyone to recognize problems with the security system. The situation might have undermined confidence in Japan’s public safety. The people responsible should have taken the lead in handling the situation.

The NPA commissioner general and the chief of the prefectural police announced their intention to resign on Aug. 25, 49 days after Abe’s death, the day Buddhists believe the dead pass on to the next world. There has been no statement about who was to blame for the incident, leading to criticism that no one within the police was willing to take responsibility.

In the shooting incident, an individual who was not affiliated with any specific terrorist organization fabricated a gun on his own and committed a crime. In this day and age, advances in technology have made it easy for anyone to obtain online information about guns and explosives and produce such items using 3D printers and other tools.

The police must be aware that terror has entered a new era and ensure that their organizations are strengthened to deal appropriately with various threats.

The NPA said that in the future it plans to draw up standards for security plans. Each prefectural police will fashion their own plans based on these standards. The NPA should assume responsibility for protecting VIPs in each region.

Cooperation must also be deepened between the police and election campaign officials who organize speeches. It is necessary to create an environment that makes it more difficult to carry out attacks, through such measures as selecting safe locations and placing uniformed police officers and police cars in prominent positions.

Many overseas dignitaries are expected to visit Japan to pay their respects at Abe’s state funeral scheduled for Sept. 27. The government must make every possible effort to ensure their security.

Some people have voiced opposition to a state funeral for Abe and have called for it to be cancelled. On the other hand, many people have visited the crime site to mourn Abe. How will the foreign dignitaries who are planning to attend the memorial service and the Japanese people who wish to mourn the former prime minister feel if the state funeral is cancelled?

A quiet farewell

The shooting incident also has revealed the problem of huge donations to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — widely known as the Unification Church — and the organization’s ties with politicians. The government and the Diet need to clarify the situation regarding antisocial activities and take measures to prevent occurrences.

There have been moves to link issues related to the group with opposition to the state funeral. While it is important for politicians to review their relationships with the Unification Church as necessary, it is not desirable to conflate these issues with the propriety of the memorial service.

Given that the government has decided to hold a state funeral in light of Abe’s achievements for the nation, it is hoped that he will be given a quiet sending off.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 26, 2022)