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May 12, 2014

The 'Koban' from Japan Spreads from Brazil to Central America

The Japanese “koban” system was developed as a mechanism of community policing that inhibits and prevents crime (1). As a system that builds up safe communities in partnership with localities, it has received high praise internationally. With the cooperation of the National Police Agency of Japan, JICA has assisted with the introduction of the koban system in various countries since the 1980s. One of those countries is Brazil. Today the koban system is spreading to Central and South America with Brazil as the point of origin.

Security as a common concern across Central America

photoA Brazilian expert, right, visiting El Salvador, listens as a local policeman talks about activities there.

In 1995, the state of São Paulo, Brazil, faced a serious security problem, and a block of São Paulo city was even designated by the United Nations as "the world's most dangerous area." The state police, who were in charge of maintaining security, introduced their own koban system in 1997. When the Japanese koban system came to their attention, it made them realize that to improve security, not only is the response after a crime important, but so are preventive activities.

Since the year 2000, JICA has been cooperating with initiatives to improve security in Sao Paulo state through training and the short-term dispatch of experts. From 2005 to 2008, under the Community Policing project, Japanese police were dispatched as long-term experts to assist with the establishment of a koban system appropriate to Sao Paulo state. And in 2008, JICA began carrying out The Project on Implementation of Community Policing Using the Koban System to spread the koban system from Sao Paulo state to other states. The koban system is steadily becoming established in Brazil and establishing a record for improving public safety.

photoThe completion ceremony for a koban built with JICA's cooperation in La Union, El Salvador

Brazil's initiatives have drawn interest from various Central American countries with the same kind of security problems Brazil faces. In Central America, atrocious crime by the youth gang MS-13 and others is becoming more serious as worsening security has become a social problem because of the region's status as a waypoint for the narcotics trade. So in 2005, the Sao Paulo Police Department began exchanging techniques with police organizations in other Central American countries for them to learn community policing practices based on the experience of the Sao Paulo police.

JICA supports such activities. In cooperation with Brazil, between 2009 and 2012, JICA deployed in Honduras the project Training for the National Police on the Community Police Philosophy by Japanese Model (Phase 1), under which the two countries have introduced initiatives of the Sao Paulo Police Department into Honduras.

From 2011 to 2013, the Third Country Training Program (2) was carried out in Brazil for El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Honduras. Police officers from each country visited Brazil, and for 10 days they underwent training on the theory and practice of regional policing, building relationships with residents, mediation techniques and other topics. Moreover, in various parts of El Salvador, officers from the Sao Paulo Police Department carried out training as JICA Third Country Experts (3) and gave guidance to police officers in areas where community policing is being expanded.

"Give us back our police!"

photoPeople are inclined to listen to the explanations of police who speak their local language (Guatemala)
photoA police officer teaches crime prevention classes and lead physical exercises at elementary schools (El Salvador)

In Honduras, which faces a serious security problem, including resistance by criminal drug organizations and atrocious crime by a youth gang, JICA and Brazil are carrying out the aforementioned Community Police Philosophy by Japanese Model project in parallel with training in Brazil and are getting good results in improving security. For example, in a certain district in the second-largest city of San Pedro Sula, murders were reduced from nine in 2010 to one the following year. In the area of a pilot district of the capital of Tegucigalpa, the number of murders was nearly halved between 2012 and 2013. Kobans became familiar to residents and more people began casually dropping by koban to talk about community events and seek advice.

There are also cases of local governments learning about the results of community policing and independently raising funds and constructing a koban, then placing a regional police officer in it. In 2013, there was an incident in which soldiers were placed in koban in Tegucigalpa to replace police officers, but residents living near the koban protested, "We don't need any soldiers. Give us back our police!" and the security minister restored the original police officers. A firm relationship of trust has been built between the police and residents and this is expected to lead to improved security.

In Guatemala, police officers, most of whom had received training in Brazil, held meetings with children, their parents and teachers to prevent crime. There were no previous examples of police officers holding citizen participation type meetings, and through this type of activity the image of a friendly neighborhood officer well-known to residents is taking root. Also, in Guatemala, indigenous peoples make up 60 percent of the population and there are many people in rural areas who never use Spanish, the official language. In this kind of area, it was reported that police officers who speak the indigenous language holding meetings, giving explanations and holding discussions with residents had the effect of shrinking the distance between the police and residents.

In El Salvador, the National Civil Police have trained 264 community policing instructors and they are carrying out training and instruction for police all over the country. In the academy where these instructors are being trained, the results can be seen of the training police officers participated in Brazil. In addition, a textbook called the "Community Policing Training Manual" made with the support of Brazilian experts and JICA are used in training around the country. In June 2013, in La Union city in the eastern part of El Salvador, the first koban in the country was built with JICA's cooperation. The koban is staffed 24 hours a day by police who also patrol neighboring residential and commercial areas.

In Costa Rica, too, interest in community policing is growing after participation in training in Brazil. Police officers who received the training and others are studying how to introduce community policing in the Brazilian model and they are now planning a pilot project.

Backing up the creation of a Central American regional network

photoA community policing seminar in El Salvador

Not only do the countries of Central America have a common language, they have similar social and cultural backgrounds and often face the same development challenges. To overcome their common challenges, they are advancing regional integration and intra-regional cooperation through regional organizations such as Central American Integration System (SICA, 4). Based on such trends, JICA is supporting SICA's activities by continually dispatching regional cooperation advisers.

Security is identified by SICA as a priority area. JICA is promoting regional cooperation within SICA as well, with Brazil as the point of origin, and backing up efforts to build a network to take on the challenge of security as a region. In July 2013, JICA assisted with a regional community policing seminar held in El Salvador for the national police and security stakeholders of the seven member countries of SICA and Brazil's Sao Paulo Police Department.

In addition to Honduras, which has completed a four-year project and already can proclaim its results, JICA is expected to start up the community policing support project in cooperation with Brazil in El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In cooperation with Brazil, JICA will continue its assistance to improve security in Central America.

1. Koban, or "police boxes," can be found throughout the various districts of Japan's cities and towns and are staffed by police officers who give directions, help resolve disputes among residents, patrol the neighborhood, and respond to local emergencies, with strong link with local residents.
2. Technical cooperation programmed at promoting South-South cooperation. The host country provides training for participants from neighboring countries that have common social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds.
3. Dispatching qualified people from developing countries to other developing countries. With this the techniques that Japan transferred to developing countries will later be “re-transferred” to neighboring countries.
4. Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana in Spanish. Established in December 1991 with the objective of realizing regional economic and social integration, peace, freedom, democracy and development. The main themes are development of the region as an economic bloc and security and climate change measures for the region as a whole. There are eight member nations: El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize and Honduras. Japan cooperates as an external observer.


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