Spotlight on JapanSocial Systems Security, a Combination of People and Science Part I

COPS Office Program Specialist Howard Stone was a 2014–2015 Mansfield Fellow Scholar. He was one of 10 federal employees who participated in a fellowship in Japan. Over the next year, Howard will provide articles about his experiences in Japan and how his fellowship related to criminal justice.

Anticipation courses through my veins. Is this nervousness or excitement? Either way, at least the February weather is nice. No complaining here.

The staff member outside the enclosure begins counting down.

“5!” More jolts of anticipation. “4!” My heart accelerates like a Tesla at a drag race. “3!” I wonder how loud this thing will be? “2!” I’m guessing ramen for dinner tonight? “1!” Time stretches, slows, then freezes. Surreal.

A loud bang hits, like a firework going off in my hands. My vision instantly gives out.

The powder. The vapor. Everywhere. I can’t see. Am I coughing? It smells kind of like the incense they burn at those Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples I’d visited lately.

I stumble forward, arms outstretched. I look left. Vapor. Right. More vapor. More stumbling forward. Finally, a light and an open door. I step out and the man offers me a hand. “How was it?”


SECOM (a contraction of “security” and “communication”), Japan’s largest security firm, has operations in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and many other countries. My assignment began in the standard fashion, with face-to-face meetings in an office. But the lack of deskwork planned for me by the Human Resources department from that point forward led to a diversion from what I’d come to expect as the norm. SECOM formed in 1961 and quickly came into Japan’s national spotlight handling security in the Athletes’ Village for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. SECOM’s image was further popularized the following year by a hit television series “The Guardman.” In the mid-70s, the company began utilizing computerized security systems, and in the 80s, it began a series of acquisitions that would form the basis of a security apparatus built on strong “social systems.”

Today the company consists of a few thousand private security officers within Japan and a total staff of around 53,000 spread out among its 11 global affiliates (note that this includes research and development, administrative, customer support, accounting, technicians, etc.), hardly large for what I picture for the largest global security corporation of our planet’s third-largest economy. It is interesting to note that as a percentage of its customer base, the company provides far more services to private customers than to government ministries. SECOM may be unique in the number of diversified directions the company goes with its social systems services: security personnel, supplemental security robotics, lifestyle robotics, home security systems, insurance, office security systems, premises protection, hospitals, elderly care, health supplements, apartments, cloud data centers, food (yes, food), and interactive 3-D mapping systems. With that said, for the remainder of this piece, I will delve into some of the things the company currently does, and maybe it will affect your perception of what it means to offer security and to be a security corporation.

Wide-open fields and gorgeous views of Mt. Fuji surround SECOM’s “beat engineer” training center in Shizuoka prefecture (the Japanese equivalent to a U.S. state). The prefecture is also among Japan’s famous green tea-producing prefectures (a few others are Fukuoka, Saga, Kagoshima, Kyoto, and Saitama). Here recruits live in dormitories, watch your standard corporate videos, take tests, and attend lectures given by senior security officers. In addition, they practice operating on broken ATMs, rehearse cash transport protection guidelines, try answering security calls, and play out scenarios attending to residences where alarms have been tripped. They also practice “ 敬礼,” (pronounced kay-ray), that is, rehearsed drill movements that are extremely precise and done with a level of discipline that is impressive and astonishing for a nonmilitary organization. Recruits are also trained and taught extensively to use their voices as weapons and to rely on physical force as a very last tactic (personnel have no weapons aside from nightsticks). One instructor screamed at me as if I was an attacker and as his voice echoed up and down the valley, seemingly bouncing off Mt. Fuji in the distance, I froze for a few seconds. These crucial few seconds are what SECOM security officers seek to utilize during hazardous situations.

Personnel learn to use stealth to sneak around the perimeters of areas whenever alarms are tripped to get visuals on the situation before entering and notifying law enforcement. One security officer explained to me that his most nerve-wracking confrontation was with a man who had tripped an alarm while wielding a power drill some years back. The individual was robbing a safe, and the officer stayed in the shadows observing him as backup and law enforcement arrived. Upon graduation from the training center, new personnel can then opt to continue advancing through the security ranks or can eventually move towards other specialized roles like marketing or R&D. Although not always available, personnel also have the option of living in basic corporate dormitories for very cheap rates after graduation to help with the cost of living. After graduation, the best security personnel participate in national competitions to compete against other security personnel from around the country in simulating security scenarios and in rehearsing the aforementioned 敬礼.

The company’s research division works on a variety of projects. Upon entering the facility, an autonomous system recognizes the faces and corporate positions of employees, sending personal greetings to each as they enter the building. The system also recognizes and responds intelligently to real-world situations. If an individual falls over, the system will ask several times if the individual is okay. If they stand up within several seconds, relief is expressed and they are wished a great day. On the other hand, if the individual does not stand up, an alert goes out to SECOM security and division staff on company provided mobile devices, showing a picture and time-stamp of the situation. If an individual loiters near the building premises or engages in behavior recognized as suspicious by utilized algorithms, alerts go out to staff mobile devices in the same manner as in the falling-down scenario, with a system analysis of the situation. Alerts go out if an individual tailgates staff through doors.

To be continued in the February Community Policing Dispatch issue.

Howard Stone
Staff Writer and Program Specialist
The COPS Office

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COPS Office Photo Contest – January Winner | Human Trafficking Prevention Months | Spotlight on Japan: Social Systems Security – A Combination of People and Science (Part I) | Roundup of the Cops and Robbers Symposium |Healing Communities – From Resources to Technical Assistance