Saturday, November 13, 2010

Koban: Japanese Community Policing

The Vice Minister of Security, Armando Calidonio, announced the formal addition of the Japanese model of community policing, called Koban, as part of the National Police training and continuing education. As part of the announcement, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) turned over a manual on Koban, elaborated from the experiences of the military police of Sao Paulo implementation, La Tribuna reported. The JICA funded program is scheduled to run through the end of 2011.

So what is Koban? Literally it means "police box". The Honduran press is taking it slightly out of context as standing for the whole model of Japanese community policing, when its only one part of it. Japanese community policing consists of police boxes (koban) and residential police boxes (chuzaisho). The Japanese National Police published a good description of the system in English here, and its from this description that the rest of this article is sourced.

With koban, the idea is in urban areas to have a small number of police officers in every neighborhood, 24/7, working shifts that include standing watch at a small, neighborhood station, walking street patrols, and going door to door talking to people. The Japanese National Police hold that this is advantageous in preventing crime, a big concern in Honduras today.

Koban are urban police boxes, deployed at the neighborhood level, with from 1 to 10 police officers who work 8 hour shifts at the police box. Residential police boxes are deployed in rural areas where a single police officer lives with his family. These officers work a single shift, but are on-call to residents at all other times.

In Japan, the basic duties of a police officer posted to a koban include standing watch, which consists of either sitting in the police box or standing outside it, and field duties of going on patrol, which includes questioning people, and performing door to door visits with houses and businesses to inform the community. Typically an officer will do both kinds of duties on a single watch. These duties are interrupted by having to deal with accidents and crimes.

It's difficult to see how this community policing model can be applied in Honduras, since several factors the Japanese police identify as essential for its success aren't true in the Honduran case.

One such essential is that there already be good security conditions. Koban, according to the Japanese National Police, only work in areas that are already safe. They are particularly vulnerable to terror attacks and vandalism. This would seem to leave out large parts of Honduras, where narco-terrorism is already an admitted problem.

Another essential is that there need to be quality officers with a good relationship with community residents. Since the model involves police coming into direct contact with residents on a daily basis, it is the behavior of the local police that comes to tinge the perception of all police by the community. Officers posted to community policing come under direct supervision of their superiors less often and thus need quality training to work independently. Without the emphasis on the quality and honesty of the recruits, this would be a foucauldian recipe for social disaster, a panopticon placing everyone under surveillance.

This is where I think the system might have promise in application to Honduras. By improving the quality of police recruits, training them well, eliminating those who are corrupt, or cannot maintain good community relations, Honduras will have a police force that is more well respected both at home and abroad, one that can contribute to a greater community sense of security.

That's the real goal of Koban.

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