"Koban" in New York City?
If you are ever in Japan and lost and do not know the way around you could ask a stranger for directions, or you could go to a koban. Koban, or “police boxes,” are small police stations that serve local neighborhoods. Known by the friendly term “omawari-san,” which roughly translates as “those who go around,” Japanese police officers are generally knowledgeable, friendly, and very easy to talk to; and officers stationed at koban are intimately familiar with their neighborhood. Koban offer a variety of services including detailed maps of their neighborhoods that both Japanese and foreigners find useful. Officers are also usually on hand to help provide information, directions, and other kinds of assistance.
Koban were originally introduced in the late 1800s as a way to increase police presence across the country. Today there are approximately 6,300 police boxes (koban) staffed by an average of 3-5 officers each, and 6,600 residential police boxes (chuzaisho), which usually house one officer, across the country. The community policing these stations provide helps build bonds of trust between their local communities and the officers who serve them. Koban also play an important role in training new officers in the way the police force works and every police officer will at one point in their career have spent time working at one.
More often than not a policeman will be standing outside their koban, providing a visible reassurance to local residents. This also lets officers respond quickly to emergencies, and provide a readily available point of access to information, such as directions, and other services offered by the police. Koban provide many services to their communities, such as counseling related to juvenile delinquency, civil affairs, consumer victimization, drug abuse, organized crime intervention, and traffic accidents. Officers also participate in community events and offer various sport and activity outreach programs that further deepen their ties within their communities.
Community policing has been attracting attention lately as a way to rebuild trust between communities and the police here in the U.S. as well. For example, New York City Mayor De Blasio unveiled a plan called “One City: Safe and Fair Everywhere” in 2015 that places emphasis on law enforcement officers creating partnerships with community members. One of the primary aspects of this plan, which will come into effect this year, is the idea of having the same two offers patrol the same beat every day while getting to know community members personally and listening to their concerns.
Police officers stationed at koban conduct similar activities when patrolling their communities as well, either on foot, by bicycle, or in a patrol car. While on these patrols officers often conduct jyunkai-renraku, which are routine visits to homes and workplaces. During these visits officers listen to residents’ concerns, take down contact information that can be used in the case of natural disasters and other emergency situations, give advice regarding crime and accident prevention, and take suggestions from their community members.