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Security at Japan police boxes beefed up after repeated attacks

National Police Agency commissioner general Shunichi Kuryu, left, inspects Shimohori Police Box in the city of Toyama, which has had its safety features improved, on Sept. 19, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Sasaki)

TOYAMA -- Following a string of attacks on Japanese police boxes that have killed or injured officers, police are beefing up security at the small local stations.

In its budget request for next fiscal year the National Police Agency's (NPA) is also seeking allocations for the installation of security cameras that will help police to identify suspicious people.

The measures follow a deadly incident in June 2018, in which an officer at Okuda Police Box in the city of Toyama on the Sea of Japan coast was stabbed and killed, allegedly by a man who then took his gun and fatally shot a school security guard.

When Shimohori Police Box, whose dilapidated building about 6 kilometers away from Okuda Police box was renovated, Toyama Prefectural Police decided to fit the police box out with the latest equipment, completing the changes in April.

Usually a police box will have a counter or a desk to be used by officers when interacting directly with people visiting the police box, but now toughened glass with a built-in sliding window has been installed over the counter at Shimohori Police Box to prevent unauthorized entry. Simple procedures such as reporting a lost item can be done through the glass.

Guard rails have additionally been installed in the area in front of the police box to stop vehicles from ramming into it. In the back, a fence measuring about 180 centimeters high and a light sensor that responds to movement have also been set up.

On Sept. 19, NPA commissioner general Shunichi Kuryu inspected the changes. "I want to introduce Toyama Prefecture Police's advanced initiative to other prefectural polices across the country," he said.

Including Shimohori Police Box, three police boxes and substations in Toyama Prefecture are set to be refitted with the new security features by the end of the fiscal year.

The NPA has also launched a model project using security cameras to identify suspicious people near police boxes.

In the past, a security camera installed at Suita Police Box in the western Japan prefecture of Osaka caught the assailant loitering near the site, but it did not stop him from entering the building in June to stab a police officer and steal his gun.

Under the new system, if the cameras identify an individual engaging in suspicious activity outside the police box, an alarm will go off inside the police box and at the police station with jurisdiction over the area. The NPA's budgetary request for the next financial year includes an allocation of approximately 280 million yen for the system. The police boxes where it will be installed will be selected in the future.

As of April 1, there were 6,253 police boxes in service nationally, and the number of police substations, where officers often end up spending the night, had risen to 6,296. Regional police officers who serve from police boxes and other places arrested 151,901 people under the Penal Code in 2018, accounting for 73.7% of all arrests.

A police official commented, "A variety of residents come to consult police and receive other services at police boxes. While taking care to maintain an even greater sense of approachability than we have up to now, we want to work toward ensuring safety."

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A timeline of recent attacks on police boxes (all ages and occupations are current to the time of the incidents):

June 2018 -- A former Japan Self-Defense Forces member, 21, was charged with crimes including robbery and murder for allegedly stabbing a 46-year-old police officer to death at a police box in the city of Toyama. He was accused of stealing the officer's gun and fatally shooting a security guard, 68, at a nearby elementary school.

September 2018 -- A senior police officer, 33, was fatally stabbed at a police box in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan. The 21-year-old university student accused of the attack claimed he had picked up some money. The student was shot and killed by another police officer on duty.

January 2019 -- A 22-year-old university student wielding weapons including a hammer allegedly attacked a 30-year-old senior police officer stationed at a police substation in the city of Toyama. The officer's wounds took about two weeks to heal, and the student was charged with crimes including robbery and attempted murder.

June 2019 -- A man, 33, allegedly used a kitchen knife to stab a senior police officer, 26, outside a police box in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, western Japan. The suspect is said to have fled after stealing his gun, and was arrested the next day on suspicion of attempted murder and robbery.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Sasaki, City News Department)

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