A flyer posted in one of the evacuation centers mentioned in this article lists some suggestions for preventing crime:
“Caution! Be wary of crimes such as theft and assault.”
“Try to stay in groups whenever possible (especially in the dark).”
“Confirm the safety of those around you (“Are you okay?” “Be careful!”)”
“If you encounter someone suspicious: 1. Let a nearby adult and/or the main office know. 2. Ask for help in a loud voice.”
“Let’s cooperate to make a safe living environment in the evacuation centers!”
– Ofunato City
Asahi Shimbun, March 17, 2011
On the sixth day following the earthquake and giant tsunami in northern Japan, the number of crimes involving theft is increasing, as people seem to be taking advantage of the disorder in one part of the disaster-struck areas. As life in the evacuation centers drags on and there are shortages of food items and fuel, there are cases in which the temptation to steal is seemingly irresistible. With the help of the local police, residents are beginning to organize patrol groups.
On March 16, three people were arrested in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture for attempted theft after they broke into an ATM machine at a temporarily closed convenience store. According to the police announcement, the three people said that they “did it because they had to feed their employees.” According to the Miyagi prefectural police, there had been 146 thefts and attempted thefts by 5 o’clock p.m. on the 16th. Besides cash, basic living essentials like food and water have mainly been the objects of these thefts.
In Mito City, a reporter observed two people as they entered a temporarily closed convenience store through a smashed glass window, and came out carrying products, including foodstuffs.
Thefts of gasoline have risen as well. According to the Ibaraki prefectural police, between March 11 to 16, there were 7 cases in which gas was siphoned off and stolen from parked cars, motorcycles, and trucks. On the 13th, a 24-year-old company employee was arrested in the act of stealing gas from a gas station.
In Otsuchi village, Iwate prefecture, a 43-year-old man had gas stolen from his car while he was out of sight for just a few minutes. “I’m disappointed because I thought that the residents of Iwate were nice people. There are so many people cooperating and working together at the evacuation centers.”
A 57-year-old man in the same village said that, “The relief supplies aren’t arriving at the evacuation centers, so we’re all getting more and more insecure.”
In the disaster-struck areas of northern Miyagi prefecture, a reporter observed four male high school students break into a vending machine to steal Oolong tea and coffee. The four students took these to an evacuation center, where they distributed them to the elderly. At that point, there was no food or water available.
On the other hand, there have also been thefts in which non-basic living essentials have been the object of the crime as well. The outlet mall in Sendai has about 100 stores selling brand-name goods. During the temporary closure of the mall, brand-name bags have been disappearing. A security guard lamented that, “It’s not just brand-name goods but also clothes and money from the cash register. I can’t get angry, I just find it sad.”
It’s reported that on the March 16, two men claiming to be employees of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) went around to private houses in Kamisu, Ibaraki prefecture, trying to charge residents ¥15000 to exempt them from blackouts. They were unsuccessful.
At an evacuation center in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, it’s said that a girl was molested from behind on her way to the bathroom. Local boards of education have suggested that each evacuation center decide on a leader who can assign duties such as food management, safety patrols, and cleaning, and also foster a sense of responsibility at the centers.
In Otsuchi village, inhabitants at an evacuation center housing several hundred people have formed a “crime prevention group,” which is exchanging information with local police. While relief supplies have reached this center, there aren’t enough blankets or medicine. The manager of the center said, “I want the national and prefectural governments to send us enough supplies. There hasn’t been any scramble for supplies, but there’s that kind of anxiety.”
A professor of criminal psychology at Kansai International University said, “Although there is some petty crime, the foreign media has highly praised the Japanese for the absence of looting or violence even in these extreme circumstances. When people are helping each other out in a disaster-struck area, there’s naturally also mutual surveillance, which is effective in preventing crimes. If we can just get more supplies out to victims, then this kind of petty crime should disappear too.”