Koban: Japanese police box system-II


By Masud Khabeki

A diverse range of Japanese visit ‘Koban’. If a ‘Koban’ is near to a train station, the police officers help travelers in providing directions of the city. While, majority of the visitors include those reporting lost or found property, an incident of criminal activity or a traffic violation/incident. Patrols are the most important duty for police officers in that the visible presence of police officers in their uniforms prevents crimes and provide a sense of security to the residence of the area. These patrols are in principle to be performed either on foot or by bicycle, because that way officers can effectively grasp the situation and assess suspicious persons or the activities. Where the area of the ‘Koban’ is large, a small patrol car or motorcycle is being used. While on patrol, officers question suspicious persons and make arrests or give guidance or warning if there is a crime or an unlawful activity. They also give guidance to traffic law violators and juvenile delinquents, take care of drunken persons and give advice to residents. Officers on patrol sometimes drop ‘patrol cards’ in mailboxes. Patrol cards inform residents of any security problem, while reminding them that police officers are on patrol in the area.

In Japan the police emergency call number is 110. In each region all 110 calls are directed to the communications command center of the regional police headquarters, where commands are issued to the relevant ‘Koban’. Officers who arrived at the scene report on the situation to the communication command center. While, in the handling of a criminal case, the role of police officers involves gathering evidence, preserving the site, arresting suspects and protecting the citizens. With a serious crime, accident or other incident the case is handed over to specialized police officers dispatched from the police station or headquarters. These police officers play the central role in clearing criminal cases on the streets. Approximately 47% of Penal Code offenses are cleared by police officers started with the questioning of suspicious persons. This is a clear illustration of important work in the form of questioning by the police officers in Japan. Police officers in Japan are advised to use their guns if necessary. To protect officers from knife attacks, knife-proof clothing is being used by the police, such clothing is worn underneath the uniform. Suppression devices are used such as police batons, nightsticks and “sasumata”. A “sasumata” is a U-shaped prong attached to the end of a long pole which has been used since the Edo period (17th to 19thcenturies). It is pertinent to mention that contrary to this approach, detectives and other officers assigned to the criminal investigation branch work on mainly serious crimes, such as felonious offenses and detectives have different roles in overall crime clearance activities.

Furthermore, door to door visits help police maintain a good relationship with the community and grasp the situation in an area. They have designed to give advice regarding crime prevention to homes and businesses as well as to listen to the opinions and requests of residents. When an officer visits a home or business, the officer hands out a ‘door to door visit card’ and asks that it be filled out with the names of the family members or employees and emergency contact information in case of a crime or accident. During these door to door visits the police officers distribute information about crimes and accidents in the area, safety measures and the like.

The ‘Koban’ publish one-page long newsletters once a month, or every few months. They used to be handwritten when the personal computers were not in use. Each newsletter is designed to be passed around or distributed to households within the jurisdiction of the ‘Koban’. Topics center on crimes, accidents and preventive methods, with pictures and graphs to be more interesting to the reader. Interestingly, apart from interviewing residents during door to door visits and conversing with visitors, each ‘Koban’ has set up a ‘Koban Liaison Council’. The council members, representatives of community residents, meets several times a year with ‘Koban’ officers in attendance. At these meetings, officers listen to the opinions and requests of the council members and discuss various problems in the community.

Since the ‘Koban’ police officers are working outside the police station, guidance and supervision has greater importance, as compared to other branches. Guidance and supervision for officers posted at ‘Koban’ is primarily made by senior officers from the police station as well as by the ‘Koban’ chief, if appointed. While, the residential ‘Koban’ are also subject to supervision by a senior officer from the police station. In addition to going the rounds of ‘Koban’ the senior officer examines activity records to provide guidance.

The officers assigned with “Patoka” (Patrol Cars), a car locator system is attached that makes it possible to monitor their activities very closely, as it displays the location and status of each “Patoka” patrol car on the monitor screen at the communications command center. The method of evaluation varies from region to region. Most importantly, priority is given to the clearance of crimes, but a good relationship with the community is also very important. The evaluation also depends on the clearance of traffic law violations, performance of door to door visits, courtesy to citizens and the appropriateness of the uniforms worn.

The discussion has enabled us to determine essential factors in the success of residential and non-residential ‘Koban’. Good security conditions are a fundamental prerequisite for the system. No doubt, ‘Koban’ are institutions designed to secure public safety, they can only be successful in areas that are already safe. For example, in an area where terrorist attacks frequently occur, ‘Koban’ could become easy targets. It is still necessary for officers to make a lot of effort in order to defend a ‘Koban’ against less serious crimes such as vandalism and other attacks. A small number of officers are deployed to a large number of places under the system. Therefore, the ‘Koban’ system can be successful under highly secure conditions such as what Japan has. There is another argument that Japan’s excellent security conditions have been underpinned by the ‘Koban’ system and also by non-police factors such as sea-bound geographical conditions, a highly homogenous society, group conscious culture, economic and industrial development further reinforced by the strict weapons ownership control. In other words, the ‘Koban’ system has been able to contribute to the safety of Japan because it already had favorable conditions for maintaining public security. The hallmark of the system is the presence of quality officers with a good relationship with community residents. Their quality has a major influence on how residents perceive the police. Japanese police had kept themselves away from all type of scandals as majority of police officers are honest and diligent. It is reasonable to say that Japan has attained high quality police officers. They have managed the difficult task of maintaining efficiency of ‘Koban’ with proper enforcement of duties and recruitment of quality personnel and a provision of state of the art training facilities. Although, the Japanese ‘Koban’ system is facing various challenges under a deteriorating security situation like all police forces across the world, it has firmly taken root in the society for over 100 years and has played an important role in the maintenance of public order, working with community resident contributions.


Masud Khabeki is a Adjunct Professor Criminology at Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi.