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Aichi Pref. suffers most burglaries in Japan for 11th year running

This Nov. 5, 2017 file photo shows a window that was smashed by a burglary gang in Aichi Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of Aichi Prefectural Police)
This Oct. 10, 2017 file photo shows a door that was prized open by a burglary gang in Aichi Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of Aichi Prefectural Police)

Aichi Prefecture is set to end the year with the highest number of annual burglaries among Japan's 47 prefectures for the 11th year running, National Police Agency (NPA) data indicates.

    As of late November 2017, a total of 6,301 burglary cases had been confirmed in the prefecture in 2017, with thieves predominantly targeting homes whose residents are temporarily away and company offices. The figure is about 1,200 cases higher than that for Chiba Prefecture, which dwells in the second-worst spot on the list.

    Aichi Prefectural Police is trying hard to deter such crimes and spread awareness about the issue. However, police officers involved in burglary investigations are struggling to tackle the problem, as the acts of organized and occupational thieves are repeated at random, and there is no magic solution to put an end to the trend.

    According to the NPA, the number of burglary cases across Japan between January and November 2017 dropped by 4.7 percent compared to the same period in 2016, to 66,951 cases.

    The number of cases in Aichi Prefecture also dropped, by 3.8 percent, yet almost 10 percent of burglary cases across Japan took place in the prefecture. So far this year, financial losses from burglaries in the prefecture have reached some 3.1 billion yen (about $27.5 million), including 1.1 billion yen-plus in cash.

    In 2017, the number of burglaries in residential houses fell by over 10 percent, but there has been a rise in burglaries targeting shops, company offices and other buildings. In particular, a case in which a series of shops along major thoroughfares were burgled, and one in which pharmacies and restaurant branches were robbed stand out.

    In the middle of the night in late May, a group of men dressed in black stole a car that was parked near a company office in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture. They went on to steal money and other items from pharmacies and small-scale stores. After this, they ditched the vehicle and made a getaway. Their movements were caught on security cameras but no suspects have been arrested.

    The men apparently deliberately targeted stores whose cash registers were close to the entrance or exit. They also attacked pharmacies, which typically do not have security shutters. Commenting on their burglary strategy, a source close to the investigation says, "It seems they targeted a string of vulnerable stores in a short space of time." Their method of prying open doors with crowbars was not particularly sophisticated, but it's likely that the gang was organized, and each member had a specific role.

    In a separate incident, it emerged that a man who was arrested in August for allegedly stealing cash and other items after robbing a pharmacy in Anjo, Aichi Prefecture, had previously been arrested for being in a gang that had repeatedly burgled other pharmacies.

    The only guaranteed way to prevent store burglaries in Aichi Prefecture appears to be to avoid holding cash inside the store.

    "The 'experience' of thieves in Aichi Prefecture is different from that of thieves in other prefectures," the investigative source says. "The only way to reduce these crimes is to keep making arrests."

    The Aichi Prefectural Police force is making progress on home burglaries in the prefecture with a project launched in 2015 to wipe out organized burglary rings.

    The average age of those being arrested is getting younger. Since February 2017, the force has arrested a total of 30 theft suspects belonging to five different youth gangs. Those arrested included former biker gang members, both male and female, aged between 15 and 22, some of whom were still in junior high school.

    One of the boys, who was part of a gang that repeatedly carried out burglaries in Konan and Ichinomiya, both in Aichi Prefecture, was quoted as telling investigators, "We targeted slightly older houses that were likely to have a Buddhist altar inside them." According to police, the gang would operate in threes or fours, pick out a house, ring the doorbell to check that no one was in, smash the windows with a screwdriver, and then steal cash placed near the Buddhist altars. It is thought that the gang spent the cash on entertainment and stimulants.

    Behind the high number of cases in Aichi Prefecture are the facts that affluent-looking homes stand out, and the road networks are excellent. However, the exact reason for the high number of cases is not known exactly.

    "If we knew the cause, we would have come up with an appropriate deterrent," the source says.

    Meanwhile, it has come to light that one-third of house burglaries occurred in homes where windows or front doors were unlocked.

    "First of all, people need to make sure that all their windows are locked," an Aichi Prefectural Police representative said.

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