Prefectural police department

In the law enforcement system in Japan, Prefectural Polices (都道府県警察, todōfuken-keisatsu) are responsible for the regular police affairs as to the areas of the respective prefectures.[Note 1] Although these Prefectural Polices are in principle regarded as municipal police, they are, in fact, in many parts under the central oversight and control of the National Police Agency.[2] As of 2017, the total strength of the prefectural police is approximately 288,000: 260,400 sworn officers and 28,400 civilian staff.[3]


In the Empire of Japan, territorial police forces were organised as departments of police of each prefectural offices (府県警察部, fuken-keisatsu-bu). They were placed under complete centralized control with the Police Affairs Bureau (警保局, Keiho-kyoku) of the Home Ministry at their core.[4]

After the surrender of Japan, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers regarded this centralized police system as undemocratic. During the occupation of Japan, the principle of decentralisation was introduced by the 1947 Police Law (ja). Cities and large towns had their own municipal police services (自治体警察, jichitai keisatsu), and the National Rural Police (国家地方警察, Kokka Chihō Keisatsu) was responsible for smaller towns, villages and rural areas.[5] But most Japanese municipalities were too small to have a large police force, so sometimes they were unable to deal with large-scale violence. In addition, excessive fragmentation of the police organisation reduced the efficiency of police activities.[6]

As a response to these problems, complete restructuring created a more centralized system under the 1954 amended Police Law (警察法, Keisatsu-hō). All operational units except for the Imperial Guard were reorganized into the Prefectural Police Departments for each prefecture and the National Police Agency was established as the central coordinating agency for these police departments.[7]


Each Prefectural Polices comprises a police authority and operational units: Prefectural Public Safety Commissions (PPSC) and Prefectural Police Headquarters (PPH).[2]

Prefectural Public Safety Commission

Prefectural Public Safety Commissions (都道府県公安委員会, todōfuken kōan īnkai) are administrative committees established under the jurisdiction of prefectural governors to provide citizen oversight for police activities. A committee consists of three members in an ordinary prefecture and five members in urban prefectures. The members of prefectural public safety commission are appointed by the governor with the consent of the prefectural assembly.[7]

Prefectural Police Headquarters

In Tokyo, the Prefectural Police Headquarters (警察本部, keisatsu-honbu) specifically refers to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (警視庁, Keishi-chō, TMPD). Also, Hokkaido Prefectural Police Headquarters is known as dō-keisatsu-honbu (道警察本部), and those in Ōsaka and Kyoto Prefectures are known as fu-keisatsu-honbu (府警察本部), and are distinguished from other Prefectural Police Headquarters (県警察本部, ken-keisatsu-honbu).[7]

The Chiefs of Prefectural police headquarters (警察本部長, keisatsu-honbu-chō) are appointed officials at the top of the chain of command in each Prefectural Police Headquarters. In the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, the name of Superintendent General (警視総監, Keishi-sōkan) is used.[7]

These police departments are responsible for every police actions within their jurisdiction in principle, but most important activities are regulated by the National Police Agency. Police officers whose rank are higher than assistant commissioner (警視正, keishi-sei) are salaried by the national budget even if they belong to local police departments. Designation and dismissal of these high-rank officers are delegated to the National Public Safety Commission.[8]

Each Prefectural police headquarters contains administrative departments (bureaus in the TMPD) corresponding to those of the bureaus of the National Police Agency as follows:[9]

  • Police administration department (警務部, keimu-bu)
  • Criminal investigation department (刑事部, keiji-bu)
  • Traffic department (交通部, kōtsu-bu)
  • Security department (警備部, keibi-bu)
  • Community safety department (生活安全部, seikatsu-anzen-bu)

In addition, urban Prefectural Police Departments comprise a general affairs department (総務部, sōmu-bu) and a community police department (地域部, chīki-bu).[9]

There are some 289,000 police officers nationwide, about 97 per cent of whom were affiliated with Prefectural Police Headquarters.[10]

Criminal investigation

In the Empire of Japan, the criminal investigation was presided over by prosecutors, like the ministère public does in French law. Then, with the 1947 Police Law (ja) and the 1948 Code of Criminal Procedure (ja), the responsibility of investigation has been defined to be uniquely assigned to police officers. In order to fulfil this responsibility, criminal investigation departments or criminal investigation bureaus (judiciary police) were set up in each police organisation. After the establishment of the 1954 amended Police Law, these departments are supervised by the Criminal Affairs Bureau of the National Police Agency.[11]

Criminal investigation departments or criminal investigation bureaus maintain two investigation divisions (捜査課, sousa-ka) (third or even fourth divisions are established in some urban prefecture), an organised crime investigation division (組織犯罪対策課, soshikihanzai-taisaku-ka) (reinforced as an independent department or headquarters in the TMPD and some prefectures), a mobile investigation unit, and an identification division (鑑識課, kanshiki-ka). The mobile investigation units (機動捜査隊, kidō sousa-tai) are first responders for initial criminal investigations, distributed among the region with unmarked cars. The special investigation teams (特殊事件捜査係, tokushu-jiken sousa-kakari) are specialised detective units of the first investigation divisions, well acquainted with new technology and special tactics including SWAT capabilities.[11] They are mandated for critical incidents except for terrorism,[12] but in some rural but well-versed prefectural police like Aomori, these detectives can form a counter-terrorism task force together with uniformed officers and riot specialists.[13]

Traffic policing

Originally traffic policing was mainly done by community policing officers. However, with the progress of motorization since the 1950s, traffic accidents have increased dramatically, resulting in the so-called traffic war, the system of traffic police was also strengthened.[14]

From the mid-1960s, mobile patrol units were installed at several PPHs, and in 1972 they were installed at all traffic departments of the PPHs as Mobile Traffic Units (交通機動隊, Kōtsu-kidō-tai). Traffic cars (including unmarked cars) and police motorcycles are deployed in these units. And as the development of the expressway advanced, the establishment of the Expressway Traffic Police Units (高速道路交通警察隊, Kōsoku-dōro kōtsu-keisatsu-tai) was also decided in 1971.[14]

Public security

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, the jurisdiction for public security policing is divided into the Public Security Bureau (公安部, Kōan-bu) and Security Bureau (警備部, Keibi-bu); the former is responsible for investigation activities, and the latter is responsible for security forces operations. In other PPHs, their security departments are in charge of all public security policing matters; but in the departments, they are divided in the same way as they are done by the MPD. They are supervised by the Security Bureau of the National Police Agency.[15]

Within their security departments or bureaus, each PPHs maintains Riot Police Units (機動隊, kidō-tai). These units are not only riot police units literally, but are also some kind of rapid reaction force for disaster relief or other emergency missions, and reinforcement for regular police when necessary. Full-time riot police can also be augmented by regular police trained in riot duties.[16]

Counter-terrorism operations are also the affairs of the security departments. The Special Assault Teams (特殊急襲部隊, Tokushu Kyūshū Butai) are the national-level units and Anti-Firearms Squads (銃器対策部隊, Jūki-taisaku-butai) are the local units.[17] These units are established within the RPU basically, but SAT of the TMPD and Osaka PPH are under direct control of their Security Bureau (TMPD) or Department (Osaka PPH).[12]

Community policing

In the Japanese police, community policing is treated as being close to crime prevention, and in rural police headquarters, community safety departments in charge of crime prevention sometimes concurrently handle community policing. Community policing officers are organised into several police stations (警察署, Keisatsu-sho). Each station includes the following sections:[18]

  • Police administration section (警務課, keimu-ka)
  • Traffic section (交通課, kōtsu-ka)
  • Security section (警備課, keibi-ka)
  • Community police affairs section (地域課, chīki-ka)
  • Community safety section (生活安全課, seikatsu-anzen-ka)
  • Criminal investigation section (刑事課, keiji-ka)

Officers of the community police affairs sections are distributed in their jurisdictions, working at police boxes (交番, Kōban), residential police boxes (駐在所, Chūzai-sho), radio mobile patrols, etc.[19]

These community policing officers are supported by the community police department or the community safety department of the prefectural police headquarters. In addition to the administration of the police radio networks, they provide inter-regional patrol units and air support: automobile patrols (自動車警ら隊, jidōsha-keira-tai) and a police aviation unit (警察航空隊, keisatsu-kōku-tai), and many other assets.[19]


Police officers are divided into nine ranks:[20]

StatusPolice ranks[20]Comparable military ranks[21]Representative job title(s)Rank insigniaShoulder pads
Commissioner General (警察庁長官, Keisatsu-chō Chōkan) No counterpart
(outside normal ranking)
The chief of the NPA
Superintendent General (警視総監, Keishi-sōkan) General The chief of the TMPD
Senior commissioner (警視監, keishi-kan) Lieutenant general Deputy commissioner general, deputy superintendent general, the chief of a regional police bureau and the chief of a PPH
Commissioner (警視長, keishi-chō) Major general The chief of a PPH
Assistant Commissioner (警視正, keishi-sei) Colonel The chief of a police station
Local police personnel Superintendent (警視, keishi) Lieutenant colonel The chief of a small or middle police station, the vice commanding officer of a police station and commander of a riot police unit
Chief inspector (警部, keibu) Major or captain Squad commander in a police station and leader of a riot company
Inspector (警部補, keibu-ho) Captain or lieutenant Squad sub-commander in a police station and leader of a riot platoon
Police sergeant (巡査部長, junsa-buchō) Warrant officer or Sergeant Field supervisor and leader of a police box
Senior police officer (巡査長, junsa-chō) Private first class Honorary rank of police officers
Police officer (巡査, junsa) Private A prefectural police officer's career starts from this rank

The National Police Agency Commissioner General holds the highest position of the Japanese police.[22] His title is not a rank, but rather denotes his position as head of the NPA. On the other hand, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Superintendent General represents not only the highest rank in the system but also assignment as head of the TMPD.[22]


Community policing officers with standard uniforms and revolvers.
Riot police officers on crowd control duties.
SWAT detectives with bulletproof vests and Beretta 92.
Anti-firearms officers with bulletproof vests and Heckler & Koch MP5.


In the pre-war period, police officers wore jackets with a stand-up collar. In 1946, the jacket was changed to four-buttons, open-collar style with vent and in 1950, a new police duty belt to wear gun and baton was adopted. But at this point, the uniforms of the National Rural Police and the municipal police differed in details.[23]

During a reorganization in 1954, uniforms were to be unified across the country, but because that would take time, only the class chapter was unified at this time. After that, in 1956, a new uniform was adopted. The jacket became the turned-down collar style with three buttons, and the vent was done away with. Also, at this time, the summer clothes became grey, but in 1968 it was changed to greyish blue.[24]

Through the campaign against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan at the end of the 1960s, helmets and protective gear for riot police officers were improved.[25] On the other hand, general police officers were wearing blade-deflecting vests under uniforms so that they would not be noticeable, but since the 2000s, a strong stab vest to overlay on the uniform was adopted. And in case of gun violence, bulletproof vests are also equipped.[26] Ordinary police officers, riot police officers, SWAT detectives, and counter-terrorism operators use different vests of different standards.[27]

Service weapon

In the pre-war period, most Japanese law enforcement officials only had a sabre. Only some elite detectives, bodyguards, or SWAT units such as the Emergency Service Unit of the TMPD were issued pistols. FN Model 1910 or Colt Model 1903 were used for open-carry uses, and Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket or FN M1905 for concealed carry. During the Occupation, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers suggested them to be equipped with firearms. Because of the insufficient stocks of the domestic handguns, Japanese police started to receive service pistols leased from the Allies from 1949, and by 1951, all officers were issued pistols.[28]

In the beginning, types of sidearm varied, but M1911 pistols and M1917 revolvers, Smith & Wesson Military & Police and Colt Official Police were used as their main sidearm. The .38 calibre revolvers were well-received, but .45 calibre handguns were too large to carry for somewhat small officers especially women. And especially M1917 revolvers were obsolete, deteriorated significantly, so malfunction or reduced accuracy had been a problem. As a response to these issues, the National Rural Police Headquarters started to import small .38 Special calibre revolvers such as Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special and Colt Detective Special. And from the 1960s, procurement began to migrate to the domestic Minebea "New Nambu" M60. When the production of the M60 was completed in the 1990s, deployment of small semi-automatic pistols was considered, but this plan was abandoned after small numbers of SIG Sauer P230 were deployed. Finally, imports from the United States was resumed, S&W M37 and M360 revolvers have been purchased for uniformed officers. And some elite detectives, bodyguards, or counter-terrorism units such as the Special Assault Team are equipped with 9×19mm Parabellum calibre semi-automatic pistols, Heckler & Koch USP, for example.[29]

From sometime in the 1970s, the Special Armed Police (ancestor of the Special Assault Team of the TMPD) introduced Heckler & Koch MP5A5/SD6/K submachine guns. And from 2002, local counter-terrorism units (anti-firearms squads) were started to be equipped with MP5F, and there are also assault rifles in the SAT and urban AFS units. SWAT units of crime branches (Special Investigation Team of the TMPD, for example) also introduced semi-automatic pistol-caliber carbine variant of MP5K (named as MP5SFK unofficially).[29]

Initially, the sniper team was established in the 1960s, the Howa Golden Bear (original model of the Weatherby Vanguard) has been used as a sniper rifle, then, it has been updated to the Howa M1500. In the Special Assault Teams, Heckler & Koch PSG1 and L96A1 also been deployed.[29]

For Japanese police, service pistols are generally left at work when they are not on duty.[30]



In Japan, there are about 40,000 police vehicles nationwide with the average patrol cruisers being Toyota Crowns and similar large sedans, although small compact and micro cars are used by rural police boxes and in city centres where they are much more manoeuvrable. Pursuit vehicles depend on prefectures with the Honda NSX, Subaru Impreza, Subaru Legacy, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Skyline, Mazda RX-7, and Nissan Fairlady Z are all used in various prefectures for highway patrols and pursuit uses.

With the exception of unmarked vehicles, all PPHs vechicles are painted and marked in the same ways. Ordinary police vehicles are painted black and white with the upper parts of the vehicle painted white. Motorcycles are usually all white, and vehicles for riot police units are painted blue and white.


In Japan, the deployment of police helicopters began in 1960. They are extensively used for traffic reporting, the pursuit of suspects, search and rescue, airlift or many other missions.[31] Total of about 80 helicopters are being operated in 47 prefectures nationwide. Some helicopters are equipped with stabilised TV camera and microwave link systems.[32]


Police watercrafts of Japan are divided into five groups: 23-meter type, 20-meter type, 17-meter type, 12-meter type, 8-meter type. As of 2014, 159 vessels are deployed nationwide.[33] Since the Japan Coast Guard is in charge of the outside of ports, police watercrafts are mainly mandated for rivers. However, sometimes they are dispatched to support police activities on the ground even on detached islands.[34]

List of Prefectural Police Departments

All Prefectural Police Headquarters, except for the Hokkaidō Prefectural Police Department (due to the prefecture's large size) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (due to the Tokyo's special status as the capital), are under the central coordination for operations monitoring and wide area investigation by the Regional Police Bureaus (管区警察局, Kanku Keisatsu-kyoku) of the National Police Agency:[10]


  1. In the Article 2 of the Police Law (警察法, Keisatsu-hou), responsibilities and duties of the police are prescribed as follows: to protect the life, physical body and property of an individual, and take charge of prevention, suppression and investigation of crimes, as well as apprehension of suspects, traffic control and other affairs concerning the maintenance of public safety and order.[1]
  2. Official name is Keira-you-musen-jidōsha (警ら用無線自動車).
  3. Official name is Kōtsu-torishimari-you-yonrinsha (交通取締用四輪車).
  4. Official name is Ōgata-yusō-sha (大型輸送車), mainly used as troop transportation.
  5. Official name is Jōchū-keibi-sha (常駐警備車), mainly used as mobile barriers and shelters for police units.
  6. Official name is Tamokuteki-saigai-katudou-sha (多目的災害活動車).
  7. Official name is Tokugata-keibi-sha (特型警備車).


  1. National Police Academy (ed.). "LAWS AND ORDERS RELEVANT TO POLICE ISSUES" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  2. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 442-448.
  3. National Police Agency (2018). POLICE OF JAPAN 2018 (Overview of Japanese Police) (PDF) (Report).
  4. Central Disaster Management Council, ed. (2008). "Section 3. Police Action". Report of expert study group on inheritance of disaster lessons learned (PDF).
  5. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 292-313.
  6. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 399-416.
  7. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 435-448.
  8. "Outline of the police system" (PDF). Union of Kansan Gavernments. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  9. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 465-467.
  10. "Public Safety Commission System and Police Activity Support" (PDF). Japanese National Police Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-16. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
  11. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, p. 320.
  12. Kakitani & Kikuchi 2008, pp. 18-26.
  13. Masashi Otuka (January 2009). "First public exhibition of the TST". Strike and Tactical Magazine (in Japanese). KAMADO: 10–11.
  14. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 934-1051.
  15. "Chapter IV. Maintenance of Public Safety and Disaster Countermeasures" (PDF). Japanese National Police Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-03-26. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
  16. National Police Agency, ed. (2004). "The Riot Police Units". Fifty years of the peace preservation police (in Japanese).
  18. "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 17 November 2017.
  19. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 916-933.
  20. "4. Human Resources" (PDF). (警察庁) National Police Agency. National Police Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  21. "Insignia of the JSDF personnel". JSDF Kumamoto Provincial Cooperation office. Japan Self Defense Force. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  22. "Description of the Japanese Police Organization". Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
  23. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, p. 309.
  24. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 523-528.
  25. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 518-520.
  26. "Blade-resistant protective clothing and bulletproof vest". February 14, 2016. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  27. "In response to the death of SAT members, the National Police Agency will verify the safety of the equipment". Asahi Shimbun. 2007-05-18.
  28. Eiji Takemae (2000). History of the non-military activities of the Occupation of Japan, 1945-1951 (15) (in Japanese). Nihon Tosho Center. p. 58. ISBN 978-4820565376.
  29. Otsuka 2009.
  30. Richard J. Terrill (2012). World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey. Routledge. p. 214. ISBN 9781455725892.
  31. National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 516-518.
  32. National Police Agency, ed. (2014). "Chapter 2 Securing community safety". Keisatsu-hakusho.
  33. National Police Agency (2015). "Deployment of police vessels" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  34. Kobayashi 2008.


  • Otsuka, Masatsugu (January 2009). "Guns of the Japanese police". Strike and Tactical Magazine (in Japanese). KAMADO. 6 (1): 50–57.
  • Kobayashi, Yoshihide (November 2008). "Ships working in harbor (11) Police boat". Ships of the World (in Japanese). Kaijin-sha (698): 118–120. NAID 40016244404.


See also

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