At the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ in Chiyoda-ku
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ in Chiyoda-ku

We had an enlightening interview, which will give me much to analyse later, with three senior officers from the Seikatsu Anzen Bu (literally, ‘Everyday Life Safety Division’) of the Keisicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police). Interestingly, this division that was created as a result of the Seikatsu Anzen Jourei (Governor Ishihara’s 2003 Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance) and which deals with all the community security and safety initiatives, including CCTV, is separate from the Chiki Bu (the community division) that is responsible for the koban neighbourhood police box system.

Like almost everyone in authority we have met here, the police were convinced that they were not doing surveillance in using the cameras. They also confirmed that almost all of the CCTV systems operated by shoutenkai (shopkeepers’ associations) are not monitored and are simply recorded. They also stressed their deep concern for privacy and the rights of citizens and said that data from the police-operated cameras – of which there are around 150 in Shinjuku (the largest system with 50 cameras in the Kabukicho entertainment district), Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Roppongi and Ueno – was only kept for 7 days unless there was a specific reason to retain it. This is a legal requirement not just a police guideline. The police cameras are monitored both in local stations and in a central control room, but we were told that it was strictly forbidden for us to visit (unlike every other city in which I have done research) as everyone who enters has to be pre-enrolled in the police iris-scan security database.

We talked a lot about the history of the development of CCTV and of community safety initiatives in Tokyo, and Governor Ishihara’s absolutely central role in backing video surveillance became very clear (it’s a shame he has so far refused an interview with us!). What was also particularly interesting was that the police themselves did not think that apparently obvious ‘trigger events’ were as important as it might seem. For example, they claim that the police only really began considering the use of CCTV cameras not after the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo underground but because of the influence of G8 summit security. One officer specifically mentioned the Gleneagles summit (which was just starting when terrorists attacked the London transport system), but this was in 2005, well after the TMG had already introduced CCTV, and after which the Tokyo police have not introduced a lot more cameras. So I don’t quite understand their point. It may become clearer once I have the complete transcripts… They also claimed that it was the Tokyo police rather than Japan Railways themselves or the Tokyo Metro authority who insisted on installing CCTV in the Tokyo transport network after the Aum attacks.

The officers talked a lot about community involvement. They dismissed the objections to their public space CCTV systems for several reasons, not least as I have already mentioned that they were not doing ‘surveillance’, but more importantly because they claimed to have done extensive consultation with local community groups, businesses etc. The claimed that they could not do anything without this support. This may have been true for Kabukicho, which was undoubtedly afflicted by an influx of Chinese gangs in the 1990s, but we heard from the local government of another ward that is being lined up for one of the new volunteer-based child safety camera systems being introduced from 2010 that they were given no choice by the police, and that local people were not happy about it. The problem is that this local authority don’t want to be interviewed further about this as they are in a rather delicate position over this new system.

(Thank-you very much to the officers from the Seikatsu Anzen Bu for giving us their time)