Next time you get the urge to flip a little truck remember, big brother is watching.

Surely we all remember and were collectively angered by the incidents that occurred in parts of the Shibuya Halloween street party which culminated in a small band of men flipping over a lightweight truck and then dancing in it.

A few weeks later police announced a series of arrests in connection with the incident. But whenever I read about these kinds of arrests I always wonder how they find these people, especially in this case where it was a handful of people in a sea of about 40,000.

According to a report by Mainichi Shinbun, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police used a technique called a Relay Method. This method uses a network of security cameras both owned by the police and private companies to track individuals. That still sounds easier said than done, but the police get a big help from Tokyo’s extensive public transportation system.

Using whatever distinguishing characteristics a suspect has, such as a knapsack, white cap, or glasses, police can track them using one of the around 20 police surveillance cameras set up in the Shibuya area. Eventually this will usually lead to a train station, which will then lead the police to the suspect’s home area.

It’s a well known fact that Tokyo’s train system is bafflingly complex so how can they determine which of the city’s 882 stops the suspect got off at? Police watch when they buy a ticket and which button they push. Train tickets are sold by price in Japan rather than the station. So if the perp buys a 320-yen ticket, police can narrow their intended destination down to a handful of stations, and given the impeccable punctuality of these trains they’ll know the exact time to check the cameras in each destination station.

From there it’s back to using the neighborhood police cameras, occasionally using shop cameras when needed, all leading right up to the suspect’s doorstep.

Don’t think you can cheat the system by using a prepaid card in the train either. The card is traceable and since police know the precise time it was used, they can still deduce which station you got off. And taking a car? Well, traffic cams have an automatic license plate number reading system which makes it easy for them too.

Reader comments were mixed on the procedure with some applauding the meticulousness of the police while others worried about the extent of surveillance.

“Good work! And camera evidence is much more reliable than witness’ memory.”
“This is kind of stalker-ish, isn’t it?”
“I don’t remember being asked if I could be videotaped everywhere I went.”
“They can use this for those train gropers who run away too.”
“Is this kind of overkill?”

Overkill or not, the police’s eyes in the sky are already in place so be sure to be on your best behavior when in Tokyo. And no matter how seductively those light trucks look at you and beg to be flipped over, you really should fight the urge. If not for fear of arrest then because they might become sentient and seek revenge like in that cautionary browser game I played the other day.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
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