Officers found slow to respond after 1st shot fired at Abe

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Photos of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are displayed Friday on a floral tribute stand set up near where he was shot in Nara.

Three of four police officers standing near former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he was shot and killed in Nara a week ago were slow to respond after the assailant fired a first round that missed the mark, sources close to the investigation have said.

A member of the Metropolitan Police Department special security unit — Japan’s equivalent of the U.S. secret service — did hold up a bulletproof briefcase after hearing the first shot, but was too far from Abe to reach him in time before the second and fatal shot was fired.

On Thursday, the National Police Agency dispatched an investigative team to Nara to root out problems with the security arrangements as it launched a full-scale probe of the incident that shocked the world on July 8.

The team plans to spend about a week on site conducting its investigation, which will include interviewing security personnel and lay the foundation for discussions on a thorough review of security measures for dignitaries.

On July 8, Abe was shot from behind at around 11:30 a.m. while delivering a campaign speech for a Liberal Democratic Party candidate ahead of the July 10 House of Councillors election in front of Kintetsu Railway Co.’s Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara.

Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, an unemployed man living in Nara, was quickly apprehended as the suspect who fired the two shots. Abe died a few hours later after being taken to a hospital.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

According to the sources, those in Abe’s immediate vicinity at the time of the incident were campaign-related personnel, with the four-man security detail — one MPD officer and three Nara prefectural policemen — deployed on their periphery.

At the time the first shot was fired, the four security personnel were mostly facing forward and unaware of Yamagami’s presence. In the 2.7 seconds that elapsed before the next shot was fired, the MPD officer noticed Yamagami holding a gun. He moved to get between the suspect and Abe and held up the bulletproof briefcase, but he was not in time.

The security police, who are positioned closest to the person being protected, are trained to cover the VIP with their own body or force them to the ground when an emergency situation develops. But in Abe’s case, the MPD officer was a good two to three meters away and it appears he saw his only option as blocking a bullet with the briefcase.

The three prefectural police officers, however, barely moved after hearing the first shot. After the second shot, two lunged at Yamagami, while the third rushed with the MPD officer to Abe.

The National Police Agency will focus its investigation on the division of responsibilities among the four police officers and how their locations of deployment were determined.

Personnel from local police squads chosen for a security detail are normally dispatched to the MPD for training in advance. However, their capabilities vary greatly from the far more experienced security police officers.

The NPA plans to report on the results of its investigation by the end of August. “Raising the level of the entire police force’s ability to provide protection and expanding the operations of the security police will be the main issues,” a senior NPA official said.

Problem with security

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed the inadequate security in Abe’s shooting death at a press conference on Thursday, saying he sees flaws in the system.

“Frankly speaking, I believe there was a problem,” he said.

Kishida said that the NPA needs to conduct a “comprehensive investigation and to fix what needs to be fixed as soon as possible.”