High crime rate a ‘misperception’: U.S. commander

by Reiji Yoshida

The rate of off-base crimes committed by members of the United States military in Japan is much lower than the rate for Japanese in general, but a “misperception” that the opposite is true still persists, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan said Tuesday.

“We are able to keep the off-base serious crime rate for U.S. service members to approximately half that of the overall Japanese population,” Lt. Gen. Edward Rice told reporters in a group interview in Tokyo.

Rice emphasized that “a balanced view” is needed to discuss crimes involving U.S. service members in Japan.

The U.S. Air Force later released a statement saying the crime rate among U.S. forces personnel in Japan is in fact less than one-third of the overall rate in the country. The figures for the U.S. military personnel cover crimes committed outside the bases.

During the interview, Rice also stressed that U.S. forces have been implementing a number of programs to ensure correct behavior by U.S. military personnel since the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa by a marine in February.

U.S. forces have been coming under particularly strong criticism from the opposition parties in the Diet, which now control the House of Councilors. In April, the upper chamber made a decision to reject a budget bill for host-nation support, the first time it had ever done so. The budget eventually went into effect in May because it had already been approved by the more powerful Lower House, whose decisions on foreign treaties prevail under the Constitution.

Rice declined to make any direct comments on the political situation in Japan but said he believes spending for the U.S. military here is “a good investment” for Japan’s security and that of the region.

“It would cost many times more . . . to be able to provide the equivalent level of security for Japan and Japanese people,” Rice said. “I think it becomes clear that at the end of the day this is really a bargain for the Japanese people.”

According to a 2004 report compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense, Japan contributed direct financial support worth $3.23 billion and indirect support worth $1.18 billion to the U.S. military in fiscal 2002.