August 22, 2013

Honduras: The Japanese ‘Koban’ System Helps Tackle the Highest Murder Rate in the World

photoBrazilian police officers, left, guide Honduran police officers, right.

In cooperation with Brazil, JICA is helping Honduras tackle its murder rate, the highest in the world.

Brazil previously introduced Japan's famed "koban" system, a nationwide network of small neighborhood police stations, with the help of JICA, and succeeded in improving public safety.

In Honduras, 91.6 murders occurred for every 100,000 residents in 2011, a figure more than 260 times higher than Japan's, 19 times higher than the United States' and 4 times higher than Brazil's the same year. This is by far the highest murder rate in the world, calculated roughly at 19 murders every day.

It is believed that Honduras has served as a major transit point for cocaine traffickers who have taken cocaine from South America into Mexico and the United States in recent years. Because of increased drug trafficking and youth gang activity, it has become somewhat common for ordinary citizens to get involved in bloodshed.

photoA police officer at a koban listens to a resident’s concern.

Alarmed by the disastrous security situation, the Honduran government came to consider citizen participation indispensable for crime prevention and security improvement, especially given its limited human and material resources. So it implemented a project, “Training for the National Police on the Community Police Philosophy by Japanese Model,” between 2009 and 2012. The project helped create a good relationship between police and civil society and introduced community-based koban staffed with police officers to directly serve a locality by keeping watch, responding to emergencies, giving directions and patrolling to fight crime.

In this triangular cooperation project among Japan, Brazil and Honduras, JICA helped to train the Honduran National Police and to introduce a koban system in Honduras in cooperation with the São Paulo State Military Police in Brazil. The police force used to struggle with the high crime rate but improved public safety after strengthening the policing system through the introduction of koban and other efforts, with the assistance of JICA.

The koban system was introduced in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and the second-largest city of San Pedro Sula, with a total of ten kobans currently policing communities in Honduras.

Each koban set up a bulletin board at its entrance to provide not only security information, but also community information, which increasingly helped make kobans approachable for residents of all ages. Citizens began to drop by kobans casually to talk about their worries or goings on in the community. One day a mother and son visited a koban for consultation about the son’s bad behavior and the officers gave advice about changing his conduct.

photoA neighbor boy, second from left, poses with koban officers after receiving guidance from them.

Casual exchanges like these helped create a relationship of trust between kobans and residents, resulting in improvements in public safety in the community. In Rio Blanco in San Pedro Sula, homicides fell from nine cases in 2010 to one case in 2011.

“We feel safer now because the koban patrols our neighborhood, makes home visits, stops people and searches them," said Nectalia Robledo, the head of a residents’ association in La Joya in Tegucigalpa." If the community police were to be abolished, I would bargain directly with the Secretariat of Security and protest against it through the media.”

Ana Galo, the head of a residents’ association in Alemánin Tegucigalpa, said, “I used to be leery even of calling the police, but after I learned about community policing in La Hora, I asked the government to introduce it also in our community.”

In the March inauguration ceremony for community policing in Tegucigalpa, attended by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla Reyes, the government established the project area as a model of community policing and announced that it would roll out nationwide.

President Lobo called on Hondurans to get involved, saying, “Community safety is rooted in a healthy family environment. So let’s build a secure and safe society together.”

JICA will continue to assist the country with extending its efforts across the country for three years starting in 2013.

The Japanese koban has grown in fame as people in other countries say more than 6,000 domestic kobans scattered across Japan must be one of the reasons Japan boasts excellent public safety. In addition to Honduras, JICA has also assisted El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua in community policing, in cooperation with Brazil, since 2008.


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