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Another fatal attack at police box shakes residents, police agency

The police box where an officer was fatally stabbed, bottom center in yellow circle, is seen across the street from a junior high school from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter, in Sendai's Miyagino Ward, on Sept. 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

SENDAI -- In the quiet residential area with schools and kindergartens in this northeastern Japan city's Miyagino Ward here, gun shots echoed early on the morning of Sept. 19.

At the Higashi-Sendai police pox, a prefectural police officer was fatally stabbed by a man and another officer fatally shot the suspect, but area residents and school officials nearby are still in shock.

In front of the police box located some 200 meters northwest of Higashi-Sendai Station on the JR Tohoku Line is cordoned off with crime scene tape and blue tarp, and passersby on their way to work or school and local residents looked on with uneasy expressions.

A woman in her 60s who lives near the Higashi-Sendai police box said, "My husband said he heard a loud bang, but we didn't think it could possibly be a gunshot. With the patrol car sirens blaring so early in the morning, we wondered what kind of incident had occurred."

"There aren't usually any incidents here, and there is a junior high school right before our eyes, so I thought that thorough crime prevention measures were in place," said a man in his 80s. "I just can't believe it."

Just across the street from the police box stands Sendai Municipal Higashi-Sendai Junior High School, and as students started to arrive for classes in the morning, teachers reportedly stood along the commuting route to make sure the students detoured so as to not pass in front of the crime scene. The school day began on time, but Vice Principal Tomoyuki Watanabe said, "I think the children are psychologically shaken, so we will be keeping a close watch over them."

Meanwhile, at Tosa Kindergarten roughly 400 meters east of the police box, teachers remembered the officers who immediately ran to their aid when a fire occurred there several years ago.

"It was a familiar police box to us," said a female teacher at the kindergarten. "I hope we can communicate with parents and children in order for everyone to feel safe again."

The events in Sendai, however, mark the second such incident to occur at a police pox in Japan this year. In June, the handgun of an officer at a police box in the city of Toyama was stolen by a man, who then fatally stabbed the policeman and used the gun to shoot dead a security guard at a nearby school. Memories of that incident are still fresh in the minds of top officials at the National Police Agency (NPA).

After the incident in Toyama, the NPA made changes to the holsters where police officers keep their weapons to make it difficult for a person other than the officer themselves to draw the gun. Inspections of police box layouts and rear exits, as well as training drills that prepared officers for attacks on the boxes were also ramped up.

Next fiscal year, plans are also in the works to install security cameras on a trial basis in several police boxes, such as the one in Toyama, where the recorded footage can be viewed simultaneously in police stations and other higher management locations. In emergency situations, the system would send out a warning, which would allow for a more timely response in sending out other officers.

Still, preventing sudden attacks is still no easy task. The original purpose of police boxes and substations is for the locations to act as a place where local residents can go for simple consultations and requests. Therefore, there are still strong arguments against installing an acrylic panel or a wall between the officers and the visitors or reinforcing the officers' equipment.

A top official from the NPA lamented, "We would literally be putting up a wall between police and residents. It's difficult to come up with countermeasures."

(Japanese original by Issei Takizawa, Kaho Hayakawa and Atsuko Motohashi, Sendai Bureau, and Toshiaki Uchihashi, City News Department)

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