Is this story about a serious moral problem within the police establishment, or is it about the tabloid media’s tendency to magnify small things into big things? Let the reader decide.
Furthermore: Assuming Shukan Post (Nov 28) is maintaining a reasonable perspective on the issue, what, precisely, is the issue? Is it the troublesome but morally innocent “empty koban” problem, or is it rampant sex among on-duty officers whose pleasurable distractions leave the public at risk?
Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department is a vast organization – 46,000 people protecting a population of 13 million. The 1,084 koban police boxes scattered about the metropolis symbolize a neighborhood policing system much admired and imitated internationally. Sometimes you phone or visit a koban and it’s empty. This can be vaguely disquieting if the matter is not serious, or alarming if it is. Sometimes it simply can’t be helped. The police are short-staffed, many koban are manned at certain hours by only one officer, and the officer may be out on patrol.
But journalist Kensaku Tokito, writing in Shukan Post, tells this story: A young woman carrying a bento lunch box sauntered casually into a koban one day. Evidently she felt quite at home. She and the lone duty officer soon disappeared into an outbuilding in the “back yard.” The building, designed as a sort of rec room, has cot beds for catnaps, on the assumption that another officer will cover in the koban. In this case there was no other officer, and a catnap was not the point. While the couple was busy in the rec room, the koban was unmanned. The location is Tokyo’s "shitamachi," an area known for folksy charm and also for relatively high crime.
Though not made public before Tokito’s expose, the story is apparently well-known in police circles and is the subject of an ongoing investigation. Tokito says he heard it from several police sources. Who was the young woman? A police officer herself – off-duty at the time. How did the matter come to light? In a most interesting fashion, says Tokito: the woman had made a formal complaint of sexual harassment at the hands of a senior police detective. The ensuing investigation uncovered the incident and, says Tokito, numerous others of a similar nature.
Now, it’s no news to anyone that police officers, like anyone else, have their human failings. It’s impossible, Tokito admits, to gauge the scale of this particular sort of indiscipline. Very likely it’s rising along with the number of female officers – still low at 8%, but the trend is upward. The department naturally investigates such instances that come to its attention as quietly as possible, lest the public gets the wrong idea – or the right idea – about what is uppermost in the minds of young officers on duty. And how many instances do come under investigation? The happenstance manner in which this particular one surfaced suggests the degree of unlikelihood involved.
Tokito recalls earlier related police scandals. Last November, a 50-year-old officer was arrested on allegations of drunkenly forcing a kiss on a female officer in a train. In April, a 24-year-old officer murdered his 24-year-old fiancée, also an officer, and committed suicide.
How much of a case does this make for “unheard-of infamous goings-on” among police officers that Shukan Post claims to be exposing? Again – let the reader decide.
But the “empty koban” problem is widely acknowledged. “It’s a problem nationwide and getting worse,” a senior police official is quoted as saying. “Even if the officer is out on patrol, it shakes trust in the system. If it’s because of the officer’s private business, that represents a vacuum in the protection of public safety.”© Japan Today