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Editorial: Police must stamp out gang violence to protect public

It is the duty of police to do their utmost to guarantee the safety of the public, and prevent them from becoming victims to clashes between warring crime groups.

Clashes between Japan's largest designated organized crime syndicate the Yamaguchi-gumi, based in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, and the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, which broke off from the Yamaguchi-gumi and is based in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, have been escalating. Ever since the breakup in August of last year, more than 60 incidents believed to originate in tensions between the two groups have taken place. The National Police Agency officially recognized the two groups as being in a state of conflict, and instructed police departments nationwide to practice vigilance and crack down on illegal activities.

Fighting among gang members and undermining each other have escalated to violent acts of revenge that are growing more heinous by the day. Bullets have been shot, trucks have been rammed, and Molotov cocktails have been thrown into enemy gang offices.

One of the most famous conflicts involving the Yamaguchi-gumi in the past is the Yama-ichi feud, which took place in the 1980s between the Yamguchi-gumi and Ichiwa-kai, a group of Yamaguchi-gumi members who broke away from the organization in protest at the appointment of the gang's fourth boss. Twenty-five people died from the fighting, and 70 people, including police officers and members of the public, were injured. For the two or so years that the feud continued, residents living near the gang offices feared for their lives.

Because of the latest feud, elementary and junior high schools located near gang offices have instructed students to commute to and from school in groups, and to take routes that would take them farther away from such offices. The public's anxiety is only getting worse as gang fighting has poured out into the streets of residential and shopping areas. The police have searched gang offices and arrested senior members on charges of fraud and extortion, and we hope police will continue to make all-out efforts to curb fighting between warring gangs. We must not let ordinary citizens become victims again.

The Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi was formed when a gang that the sixth Yamaguchi-gumi boss was originally from expanded its influence, and members of some of the other gangs under the umbrella of the Yamaguchi-gumi broke off in protest. The problem now is that because the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi is so new, it has yet to be designated an organized crime syndicate under the Anti-Organized Crime Law.

Once a group is designated an organized crime syndicate, authorities cannot only ban the gangs' use of their offices during feuds, but if fighting intensifies, they can limit the activities of gang members in certain locations. To bring the fighting to an end, the Hyogo Safety Commission should rush to get the organization an official designation, which it is in the process of doing. It is also important to consider whether legal amendments should be made to allow the acceleration of such designation procedures in cases like the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, in which members break off from an already designated crime syndicate.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of gang members nationwide has been reduced by half in the past 10 years due to various efforts targeting organized crime. Still, as of the end of last year, there were approximately 46,900 gang members, of which some 14,100 belonged to the Yamaguchi-gumi and around 6,100 belonged to the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi -- comprising nearly half of all yakuza. Authorities must make further attempts to weaken these organizations, preventing them from earning income through methamphetamines and "protection money" taken from restaurants and other establishments.

Several police departments, including the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo, the Osaka Prefectural Police Department and the Fukuoka Prefectural Police Department reached an accord last month to expand support for former gang members seeking employment. It will also be important for authorities to use gang breakups as opportunities to encourage gang members to leave a life of crime behind, and to cooperate with employment bureaus and other related bodies to expand efforts toward social rehabilitation.

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