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Editorial: Attack on police box highlights need to protect local officers

A recent attack on a police box, in which an officer and an elementary school security guard were killed, highlights the need to protect the safety of officers at police boxes that are playing a key role in maintaining security for local communities.

    In the incident, a 21-year-old man stabbed an officer at a police box in the city of Toyama, robbed him of a gun and fired a shot at a security guard at a gate to a nearby elementary school. The officer and the security guard died in the incident, and the assailant was arrested after being shot by another police officer who rushed to the scene.

    It was an extremely abnormal incident in that the assailant attacked a police box that ensures the safety of local residents and shot a school guard who is an ordinary citizen.

    The elementary school was only 100 meters away from the police box just across the street. At the time of the incident, classes had finished at the school and the children were preparing to go home. If something had gone badly wrong, schoolchildren could have been entangled in the incident.

    One cannot help but wonder why the assailant went on such a rampage. Law enforcers are required to get to the bottom of the incident, including the motives behind the attack.

    In the latest case, a gun stolen from a police officer was used as a weapon. The National Police Agency (NPA) is taking measures to prevent officers from being robbed of their pistols, such as strengthening the rope that ties guns to officers' waists. The NPA is also urging prefectural police departments to conduct drills for officers on the assumption that they are suddenly attacked.

    In the Toyama incident, it remains unclear under which circumstances the officer was attacked. However, it is essential to review how guns are managed at police boxes.

    Police boxes are community hubs that protect the safety of local residents, and are well known overseas as "Koban," which symbolize Japan's high public safety.

    There are more than 6,000 police boxes across the country. Officers at these facilities work to prevent crimes in their areas of responsibility and respond to neighborhood incidents. They also interact with local residents by patrolling the communities they are responsible for.

    At one point, police boxes where officers are not always posted emerged as a social problem. The NPA is trying to deal with this issue. In recent years, there have been a growing number of foreign tourists, and officers are trying to communicate with them using phrase books at police boxes.

    Yet the latest incident has shed light on the vulnerability of police boxes. Two to three officers typically work in shifts at most police boxes. However, recently only one police officer is present at many police boxes. Just like the latest incident, it is often difficult for just one officer to respond to a surprise attack.

    If police boxes were excessively guarded and local residents were kept at a distance, they could not sufficiently fulfill their role.

    It is indispensable to protect the safety of police officers who work in local communities in order to make sure that police boxes function as the front line for protecting safety. Effective countermeasures against an incident like the latest case should be swiftly considered.

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