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April 2007

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Japanese Koban Take Root in Latin America

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. Recently, koban have been attracting worldwide attention as an effective means of building safer communities.

A koban in São Paulo, Brazil.
A koban in São Paulo, Brazil.

In an effort to help other nations improve public safety with their own koban system, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) developed the "Community Policing" technical cooperation project, which sends JICA experts to assist with the establishment of koban systems in interested countries. One such expert is Takashi Ishii, a 49-year-old superintendent with the Kanagawa Prefectural Police. Ishii is currently working with the São Paulo State Military Police in Brazil to improve public safety throughout the state by making use of Japan's experience in this area to strengthen community policing.

The state police in São Paulo have struggled in recent years to find a means of safeguarding citizens' safety amid the worsening security situation brought about by rapid urbanization. State officials were attracted to the Japanese koban system and decided to replicate it in Brazil. These transplanted koban have since become a part of their neighborhoods and are contributing to the improvement of public safety in São Paulo by working with residents to develop safe, livable communities.

Commenting on the effect of the koban, Ishii's partner, Vice Commander of the São Paulo State Police Lieutenant-Colonel Luis Castro, says, "In 1999 the murder rate within the city of São Paulo was 52 per 100,000 people, but by 2005 it had fallen to 24. This is a result of the introduction of the koban system."

JICA expert Takeshi Ishii (left) visits a koban in El Salvador.
JICA expert Takeshi Ishii (left) visits a koban in El Salvador.

As São Paulo's koban system gradually produces results, other Latin American nations searching for ways to improve public safety have taken serious interest in it. In fact, law enforcement personnel from four Central American nations (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) gathered in El Salvador March 12–14 to participate in the international seminar "Community Policing in Action: Operation Strategies and Concrete Work Procedures." Ishii and members of the São Paulo State Military Police, meanwhile, attended the seminar as speakers.

In addition to lectures from Brazilian police, the seminar also featured workshops in which participants discussed current conditions and efforts related to public safety their countries. Around half of the 20 Central American participants had previously completed JICA training programs, such as the "Seminar on Citizen and Community Security Improvement," and they reported that their training is gradually producing concrete results. At the end of the seminar, participants drew up action plans to further develop community policing once they return home.

Lieutenant-Colonel Castro, who spoke at the seminar, was enthusiastic about the prospect of using Brazil’s experience to assist other countries. He explains, "During the seminar I realized that Central American countries have faced the same issues as Brazil when it comes to implementing community policing, and I believe that Brazil’s experience can be instructive. In cooperation with Japan, I hope those of us in the São Paulo can share our experience and knowledge with other Latin American countries."


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