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Japan moves to let officers move to residential police boxes without families

Illustration by Shiori Matsushita (Mainichi)

FUKUOKA -- Fukuoka Prefectural Police are set to ease their working conditions from next spring to allow officers to move into residential police boxes alone without bringing along family, leaving Kyoto the last prefecture in Japan that still adopts the outdated system.

    The move has been made as the system of transferring personnel, while requiring police officers to be accompanied by family in all cases, has become outdated against a backdrop of an increase in dual-income households. According to Fukuoka Prefectural Police, the relaxation of working conditions has already been pressed forward by police nationwide, and currently only Kyoto Prefectural Police makes it a general rule to have family members move into residential police boxes.

    A residential police box is a type of branch under police stations, where officers are usually assigned in a cycle of about three years. There are 107 such locations in Fukuoka Prefecture, mainly in smaller municipalities, and police officers appointed there had carried out their duties while living in the police boxes that also served as residences.

    Why have families been required to accompany police officers? When an officer is absent from the police box when they are out on patrol or other duties, the spouse can respond to any visits from residents. It has also been deemed that officers' participation in local events as well as other community-based services with their partners lead to feelings of safety and security among residents. As a general rule, spouses were to be unemployed and were not allowed to do part-time work. In exchange, the officers were provided special spousal allowances.

    However, according to prefectural police, officers belonging to dual-income households that buy their own houses have increased among those in their 30s, the age group that is often assigned to residential boxes. There has apparently been a considerable number of cases where officers steer clear of residential boxes due to family situations and aging buildings.

    Fukuoka Prefectural Police determined that if current working conditions continue to be in place without responding to changes in personnel's lifestyles, it may lead to a shortage of officers in charge of residential police boxes in the future. When considering changes to working conditions, they found that police across the country except for in Fukuoka and Kyoto prefectures had already scrapped rules requiring officers to bring family, and decided to review their operations.

    Prefectural police are considering system changes to be implemented starting next spring that not only allow officers to move into residential boxes alone, but also permit spouses to have part-time jobs while decreasing the amount of allowances given based on their part-time income. Police will solicit officers wishing to be assigned at residential boxes while expanding the scope of eligible applicants to veteran police officers who had been unable to work there in the past due to family situations. Furthermore, prefectural police plan to proceed with reconstruction of the aging residential boxes.

    Haruo Sato, director general of Fukuoka Prefectural Police's police administration division, commented, "Though it is desirable to have family members accompany officers, we'd like to search for flexible ways to work at residential boxes that match our staff's lifestyles while taking local residents' needs into account."

    Meanwhile in Kyoto Prefecture, there are 98 residential police boxes, and prefectural police make bringing along family to residential boxes part of its application criteria. They commented, "We are aware of the nationwide trend surrounding work at residential police boxes, and we are discussing a relaxation of requirements."

    (Japanese original by Akira Iida, Kyushu News Department)

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