For those who woke up in Saitama Prefecture this morning, you might have noticed something particularly pleasant in the air, like the entire region just got a little happier. That’s because on 22 May the Prefectural Police announced that they would be giving refunds and apologies to 2,400 people who were given tickets and demerit points because of an improperly conducted eight-year crackdown on driving violations.

Since January 2006, the Saitama Police have focused on handing out citations on a stretch of the Tokyo-Gaikan Expressway between the Misato Junction (JCT) and Misato South Interchange (IC). However, once it was learned that such policing of this area hadn’t been authorized by the Saitama Public Safety Commission, the clampdown promptly ended this April.

The National and Prefectural Police Agencies are controlled by a Public Safety Commission. They are meant to be politically neutral overseers assigned by the governor (in the case of a prefecture) for a fixed term. Unlike police commissioners of other countries, members of this commission are not selected from the police force. They tend to be people from the political sphere who have little to no connection with active duty officers.

That’s probably why the Public Safety Commission came down pretty hard on the Saitama Police and ordered them to contact all 2,400 people issued tickets over the eight-year span and refund their fines. Over the course of the eight years, around 14.4 million yen (US$140,000) was accumulated from enforcement of this stretch of road.

Moreover, 85 people had had their licenses suspended or revoked. In addition to their fines they will also be compensated for the driver training courses they had to take to be able to get back behind the wheel.

You could argue that this is excessive punishment triggered in part by tensions between Saitama Police and their public oversight. You could also claim that this is a huge waste of tax payers’ money considering most of the people probably did commit the violations they were fined for.

On the other hand, by the time you read this, over 2,000 people have received phone calls that undoubtedly brightened their days and as a result those around them. It’s hard to put a price on intangible benefits like that.

Source: MSN Sankei News (Japanese)
Image: Wikipedia – PRiMENON