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Fugitive suspect may have moved outside Osaka Pref. to avoid police dragnet

Junya Hida (Photo courtesy of Osaka Prefectural Police)

OSAKA -- A robbery and rape suspect on the run for two weeks may have fled outside Osaka Prefecture at one point as footage of a man resembling him was captured by a security camera in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture, according to people close to the investigation.

Junya Hida, 30, who was arrested over four cases, was apparently riding a black motorbike in front of JR Tachibana Station in the city of Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture at around 1 a.m. on Aug. 14. Two days earlier, Hida fled Tondabayashi Police Station in southern Osaka Prefecture after an interview with his lawyer.

Shortly after his escape, a black motorbike was stolen in the city of Matsubara, north of Tondabayashi, where his parents' house is located. From 1 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Aug. 13, four bag snatching incidents in which the suspect allegedly used a black motorbike were reported in Naniwa Ward of Osaka city, as well as the city of Habikino and then Osaka's Hirano Ward. All of the stolen bags were found along the Yodo River in Osaka's Nishiyodogawa Ward with cash missing.

JR Tachibana Station is about four kilometers northwest of the riverbed where the bags were found. Investigators suspect that Hida has avoided the dragnet by moving around in a wide area using money he obtained from the bag snatching incidents.

The Osaka Prefectural Police have deployed 3,000 investigators to search for Hida. The police department faces severe criticism from Osaka residents for its failure to keep the suspect in detention and recapture him after two weeks on the lam. Delays in initial responses to his escape appear to be behind this failure.

Officers at Tondabayashi Police Station did not realize Hida was missing for more than one hour after he had an interview with his lawyer. Moreover, it took the police several hours to inform local residents and municipalities about the man's escape.

Hida was found missing at 9:43 p.m. on Aug. 12. An emergency alarm rang throughout the police station informing officers about the suspect's disappearance. A station official contacted the prefectural police dispatcher seven minutes later, and an emergency deployment order was issued one minute after the call to 17 police stations in southern Osaka Prefecture. At the time, officers thought the suspect had just fled moments earlier, but he had been gone for more than an hour.

A security camera near Tondabayashi Police Station captured the image of a man looking like Hida escaping on a red bicycle at around 8:30 p.m.

The emergency deployment order targeting the suspect did not cover the city of Osaka, although he apparently visited the area. A senior prefectural police officer explained that initially the man was thought to have fled on foot, and investigators judged that the possibility was low for Hida to reach as far as Osaka more than 10 kilometers north of Tondabayashi.

At around 3 to 4 a.m. on Aug. 13, footage of a man looking like Hida was captured on a security camera walking while eating something near his parents' home in Matsubara. Investigators only reached this area in the morning, and the suspect had already apparently fled.

The prefectural police also had a series of problems in telling local residents what happened. It took nine hours for the police to send out an email to registered users about Hida's escape. As many as 210,000 people are registered to receive the mailing service for crime and related information in areas they select. However, only 6,000 people received the alert email as the police department limited recipients to those around the Tondabayashi station.

Officers at the station also took some 15 hours to ask nearby municipal governments to send out information about the suspect's disappearance on their radios, based on prearranged agreements between them in cases of incidents threatening the safety of residents. Only four municipal governments were able to radio the information.

As many as 2,866 complaints from Osaka Prefecture residents were filed against the police department as of Aug. 24, according to the prefectural police. The complaints include criticism that Hida's escape is a disgrace for the police, or the case shows the police's slack management of suspects under custody.

(Japanese original by Kentaro Mikami, Sachiko Miyakawa and Takuya Murata, Osaka City News Department)

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