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Japan May Offer A Way Forward For Better Community Policing in Bibb County

By Alan Wood,

Editor of Georgia Watchdog

In the U.S., police activity is mostly centered around the patrol car. In downtown Macon you occasionally see officers on bicycles, segways, or on foot,  but in most parts of Bibb county they use squad cars for patrols. In Japan the center of police activity happens in a very small police station called a koban.
Police boxes  are ubiquitous throughout Japan, and practically every populated neighborhood or community has one. There are different versions depending on urban or rural areas, but if you include both types, there are approximately 6,600 kobans in cities and around 9,000 chuzaishos in rural areas. The main difference is just the territory they are supposed to patrol. A koban typically will need to be responsible for an area only around 0.22 square miles, but because Japan is so densely packed that means that might include 8,500 people for that area. In the countryside, a chuzaisho will cover a much larger area of 18 to as much as 25 square miles, but with perhaps a population of only 3,000.

One of the more interesting aspects of kobans is their quirky architectural designs meant to be friendly and inviting to the public. Most that I personally observed were a standard industrial design, but you also see a number of uniquely inspired ones as well. I’ll include a few photos in this article of several types. Just like in Macon, Japanese police patrol their neighborhoods,  but they do so primarily on foot or bicycle. They also have cars, of course, but cars are not used nearly as much. The most notable feature of Kobans is the community policing aspect.

Since the riots in Ferguson, the entire country has begun to examine and question how policing is performed in our country. One suggestion you often hear as a recommendation to improve relations is the term “Community Policing.”  But what you don’t tend to hear are any concrete plans or details to implement community policing. It has become a buzzword that seems almost ethereal or mythical. But kobans might be a very cost-effective and practical way to implement effective community policing both in Macon and across the entire U.S.

More Friendly Interaction With Police Needed

koban-777This point has nothing to do with buildings and everything to do with attitude. In Japan, people don’t fear or hate the police to the extent they do here. No one is afraid to walk up to police and ask for directions, for example. In fact the nickname for police often used translates to “kind big brother” (without the connotations from the film of the same name). Japanese police are often even used as arbiters in disputes between neighbors in cases that almost always result in court cases in the U.S.  The Japanese police are viewed as impartial and fair. They hand out umbrellas in the rain, give directions, and make a point to meet as many people in their areas as possible. I was on a first name basis with the officers at my local Koban.  They even took me out to dinner on several occasions, quizzing me on American police tactics and laws, but also just being friendly.

The crime rate in Japan is much lower than the U.S. so very few policeman carry guns. I think this also adds to the ease people in general have with the police. When I first moved to Japan, I was assigned to teach at pretty rough High School. Nearly all the parents of the students were in the Yakuza (the Japanese mob) and other dubious professions.  Nearly every day we would have some police officers pop by and walk around the school campus. One older and very muscled policeman gruffly asked me in his limited English about my favorite food. I told him, though I can’t remember what I said now. He briskly turned and walked away, and I thought that was a bit odd. The next day he reappeared at lunch time, huge smile on his face and bag in hand, with the favorite local food I had told him about the day before. Now,  I’m not suggesting Bibb deputies need to go around buying lunch for teachers, but I think that’s a good example of simply connecting with the people in the community.

pipo_koban02In Japan at lunch, they also allot a recess time for students. After they eat, they all go out into the schoolyard and are given basketballs, badminton rackets, and other equipment to play for around 20 or 25 minutes until the next class began. They still have an entire hour dedicated to P.E. as well, and this time is supplemental to that P.E. class. That same officer joined me outside as we got our butts whooped by some 13-year-old  badminton prodigies. Actually they were probably just mediocre, but after the humiliating loss that thought comforted me. I later got revenge when we switched to tennis.  😎

I suppose the point I want to stress is that Japanese police are very involved in the neighborhoods they serve. They walk around every day, and greet and get to know people who live and work in that area. Often the first and only time a deputy in Bibb County will interact with someone is during a stressful time where they are in need of assistance, or are being detained. As much as they might deny it,  I think they also have ticket quotas they need to fill.  That doesn’t help endear them to the people in Bibb County.

It’s no wonder why Americans view police with such trepidation — there are so few opportunities to mingle with them as human beings. I am not exactly sure how we can improve that in Macon but it is something that needs to happen. Bibb deputies desperately need to improve their image and that starts with community involvement beyond traffic citations.

Can Japanese Kobans Be Exported To Other Countries?

SN3F0081When I’ve discussed this idea with Americans before, they usually say that it wouldn’t work here. They rattle off a litany of reasons why.  Usually the biggest reason is the high crime rate. But both Brazil and Honduras, which have crime rates even much worse than the U.S., have used the Koban model to excellent effect.

Brazil was worried about safety for the visiting tourists during the World Cup, and decided to give Kobans a shot. They contacted the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Police Agency (NPA) who assisted the Brazilians with setting up Kobans that could work in Brazil. Even after the World Cup was over, the kobans not only remained, but were extended all over the country.

The main goal is to nurture the interactions between police and the local people they serve. 200 police boxes were established in Sao Paulo, which is the largest city with a metropolitan population of 42 million. JICA, quoting the military police there, said the number of murders fell to 10 per 100,000 in 2011, from 35 in 1999, due to the Koban system. Kobans have also successfully been adapted in Singapore, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Fukurou-kobanHonduras in particular is a great example to prove that it can work in a high-crime-rate country. It has the highest murder rate in the world. According to this article by JICA, “In Honduras, 91.6 murders occurred for every 100,000 residents in 2011, a figure more than 260 times higher than Japan’s, 19 times higher than the United States’ and 4 times higher than Brazil’s the same year. This is by far the highest murder rate in the world, calculated roughly at 19 murders every day.”

They started in Tegucigalpa the capital and largest city. At each Koban they put up bulletin boards at the entrances which included lots of useful information both about security, most wanted posters, but also information about yard sales and other events. This encouraged residents to drop by for casual encounters where a mother even asked for advice about bad behavior of a teenage son. These casual exchanges began to build trust. In one area, homicides fell from nine cases a year to one.

How Could Kobans be Adapted to Bibb County

segwayThe ideas of community policing dates back to establishment of the London metropolitan police by Sir Robert Peel back in 1829. Peel belivied that effective community policing could only be done properly with both the consent and cooperation of the community they served and this began to be called the Peelian model from which Japanese Kobans took their inspiration. Policing by consent is still a core tenet of British policing to this day. Like Japan the Brits seems to have a much better relationship and respect for their constables than we see in the U.S.

Ironically, after World War II, it was the U.S. occupation forces that also helped develop community policing in Japan because they wanted a decentralized police force. The primary difference in Japan and the U.K. is their community policing is actually more akin to neighborhood policing. Here in Bibb, officers will have to cover a much wider territory and have very little friendly interaction with citizens.

Forty years ago in America, our police also walked their beats more frequently. Antagonism from the 60’s from war protests seemed to change that relationship, but some cities are trying to recapture that close relationship again. Many U.S. cities have even sent officers to Japan to observe. I found this article called U.S. Police Walk A Different Beat in Japan that provides a lot more detail and observations based on those visits. I would be remiss not to point out some things that would not apply here like a largely homogenous population, far denser population density, and other cultural differences.  Still, that doesn’t mean there are not other lessons we can learn.

(Koban – 交番)

Differences in Police Training

One other big difference is the level of training Japanese police receive versus those in the U.S. Japanese police must complete a rigorous two year course where they are not only taught self-defense but also things like the tea ceremony, flower arranging, mediation courses. They learn a type of martial arts called Taiho-Jutsu. The U.S. military also uses variations of this in their basic training. The aim is to be able to use non-lethal means to restrain and subdue a criminal. Around 40% of Japanese police also have a four year college degree as well. After their year at the police academy they are then given an addition three month evaluation with hands on training. If they fail any portion of their evaluation, they’re dismissed. After those three months ,an additional six months is tacked on back in the police academy for more advanced course work.The training for American police is much shorter and less rigorous.

One distinct difference is the focus on social skills and moral judgement. Even after graduation they have continuing education and recertification not only for weapons but for technical, legal, psychological courses as well. Promotions to seargant and above also require three months or more of additional training.

Using a gun in Japan is almost always a last resort and almost never used even if the criminal brandishes a gun. Even if you are a police officer it carries severe consequences and scrutiny. If it can be determined there was any possibility to make an arrest without using your gun, a policeman can be fired or arrested. I point out these differences because that level of professionalism in Japan would be hard to copy in Bibb county which has far less stringent requirements. But like the Kobans, I think this might be another area where we could learn a thing or two. Most of the incidents where citizens are killed happen because of poorly trained officers not following protocols. We need to make sure officers are better trained and not quite so trigger happy.

The Washington Post discovered that “there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain last year. Not one. In Germany, there have been eight police killings over the past two years. In Canada — a country with its own frontier ethos and no great aversion to firearms — police shootings average about a dozen a year.” Yes there are far more guns in the U.S. but when well over a thousand Americans are killed by police each year at some point you have to think that number is way too high especially in cases like Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, David Hooks, and so many other innocents. Another big difference is the lack of civil asset forfeiture laws in other countries that can cause mistrust and policing for profit abuses.


This is a very complex subject, and I don’t claim to be an expert at either Japanese or American policing techniques. But nearly all Americans agree that drastic changes are needed to improve relations among citizens with the police. I will include some links with more detailed information below. Hopefully Sheriff David Davis will read this article, and consider adopting or at least studying the possibility of some of the ideas I’ve addressed here.

In summary, one of the biggest changes needed by deputies in Bibb county and across the country is more training on how to use non-lethal force. Far too often, someone is shot unnecessarily in the U.S. by the police. There are certainly times where it is justified —  but also thousands of instances where it is not.

I also realize that most cops are good people doing a very difficult and often thankless job for low pay. We must make sure to identify and recognize the hard work done by good cops trying to make a positive change in the communities they serve. Conversely, we must recognize that a small minority of bad cops are giving the rest a bad name. In NYC, for example, 5 percent of arresting officers make 40 percent of all resisting arrest charges. I would be curious to know the statistics for Bibb County. We need to do a better job of firing bad cops just as we need to do a better job of rewarding the good ones.

As Macon moves ahead with the development of the parks along the Ocmulgee river, the Second Street Corridor and other projects, it’s also time we considered some strategically placed Kobans around town. We would certainly want to locate them in the highest crime areas first. But we should also consider one near Mercer University, since several recent crimes have taken place there against students. We should also consider locating a few downtown as well. Instead of large expensive buildings, these small Kobans could be built for much less than the cost of a small house. Macon-Bibb could become a model not only for other police agencies around Georgia, but across the country. It’s certainly worth a shot, and if anyone has a better idea, I’m all ears.


Japan exports ‘koban’ system to improve public safety in Brazil for World Cup

Honduras: The Japanese ‘Koban’ System Helps Tackle the Highest Murder Rate in the World

U.S. Police Walk Different Beat in Japan

Japan’s Koban Public Relations Ambassadors

The ‘Koban’ from Japan Spreads from Brazil to Central America




Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Dave Oedel says:

    Alan Wood, the concept of community policing as reflected in the Koban approach really does have applicability here. You might think that Japan is some kind of “easy” place to make such a concept work, but as you know better than me, Japan from the inside is also roiled with different kinds of class and ethnic divisions that are often as intractable as ours. And gangs they have too. Thanks for bringing attention to this effective policing approach. Let’s hope that Sheriff Davis and others recognize that ideas like these really can have a bearing on Macon and Middle Georgia. Given the crime rate here and the spate of recent murders, it’s not unreasonable to consider innovative approaches.

  2. […] prime targets for gang recruitment, drugs, and crime.  I wore an article detailing some ideas for better community policing based on Kobans in Japan that I still feel has real merit. There is no easy or quick fix to reducing crime, but we need to […]

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