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Emergency calls to police in 7 major Japan prefectures drop while coronavirus calls rise

Police officers in Hakata Ward in the city of Fukuoka are seen patrolling the streets of the Nakasu entertainment district on April 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Haruna Tasaki)

Police in the first seven prefectures across Japan that were placed under a state of emergency declaration from April 7, prior to a nationwide declaration, have been seeing a decrease in emergency calls, raising speculation that the drop is due to fewer people going out amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, police are grappling with a number of reports that reflect coronavirus concerns, such as over children playing in parks.

The Mainichi Shimbun conducted interviews with prefectural police forces in the seven prefectures of Tokyo, Osaka, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Hyogo, and Fukuoka. These prefectures saw a decrease in the number of emergency calls received in March by 6% to 17% compared to a year earlier. Of the seven prefectures, the capital's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) saw the sharpest decline in the number of "110" emergency calls in March, receiving approximately 129,900, a 17% fall from the year before. Fukuoka Prefectural Police in southwestern Japan saw a 12% decrease while Osaka Prefectural Police in western Japan saw a 7% drop.

The number of emergency calls in these areas saw an even steeper decline for the period between April 1 and 15 as the state of emergency was declared from April 7. The seven prefectures saw 14% to 30% declines in early April.

The MPD recorded the largest drop of 30% during that period, followed by a 19% fall for Fukuoka Prefectural Police and 17% for Hyogo Prefectural Police in western Japan. According to National Police Agency statistics, the number of emergency calls nationwide had remained mostly unchanged during the 10-year period up to 2018. As the national and local governments are asking residents to refrain from going outdoors, the number of emergency calls stemming from traffic accidents and altercations in downtown areas seem to have decreased.

Meanwhile, the number of "110" emergency calls made to police regarding the spread of coronavirus infections has been on the rise, reflecting people's anxiety over the pandemic as well as trouble stemming from it. The MPD examined its data and a total of about 190 emergency calls in March and about 470 emergency calls in the first half of April contained the keywords "corona" and "refrain." Osaka Prefectural Police also examined written memos of emergency calls and found about 30 coronavirus-related emergency calls for March, which increased to a total of around 130 calls for the first half of April.

The emergency calls included, "A child playing in a park is not wearing a mask" (received by the MPD), "I'm out of disinfectant liquids" (Hyogo Prefectural Police), "There are stores open amid requests for temporary closures" (Kanagawa Prefectural Police), and "A person that came near me coughed" (Fukuoka Prefectural Police). An MPD representative commented, "Residents have accumulated stress and may have become highly alert to their surroundings."

All seven of these prefectural police forces had introduced work-from-home practices by April 20 to reduce viral transmission risks, beginning with the MPD, which has adopted the system since March 30. There are many cases where officers are allowed to bring home their work laptops and official documents with permission from their superiors. Fukuoka Prefectural Police aim to have 30% of its staff working from home, while the MPD aims to have 20% or more doing the same.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Higa and Shunsuke Ichimiya, Kyushu News Department)

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