U.S. anticrime steps little comfort in Okinawa


OSAKA — With an unprecedented curfew on U.S. military personnel in Okinawa tentatively due to expire Monday, central government and prefectural officials are rushing to assure those living near U.S. bases that anticrime measures are being taken in the wake of the alleged Feb. 10 rape of a 14-year-old local girl by a marine.

But many in Okinawa worry the measures announced so far, which include the installation of off-base security cameras and having U.S. military and Okinawa police conduct joint patrols, are unlikely to be effective given the number of U.S. forces-related individuals who are scattered throughout the main island and live on and off base.

“The new measures don’t mean a thing. Neither the Okinawa government nor the U.S. military has announced the details of the joint patrols, such as when and where they will take place. Given Okinawa’s size and because U.S. military personnel live all over the place, the patrols are not going to be effective anyway,” said Suzuyo Takazato, a former Naha assemblywoman who heads the Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence, a Naha-based organization.

Since the alleged rape, some Okinawans have been conducting volunteer patrols of bars and nightclubs where many U.S. military personnel often gather. Under the current curfew, U.S. service members and their families in Okinawa, Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture are confined to base, or to their off-base housing, except for employment, education and medical purposes.

But Takazato said citizen patrols are not the answer.

“What’s going to happen once the curfew is lifted? And why should Okinawans feel they have to conduct such patrols to keep their streets safe anyway?” she asked.

Toshio Ohama, a spokesman for the Okinawa Teachers Union, said conducting joint patrols is a good start but does not address the fundamental problem.

“Strengthening cooperation between the U.S. military and Okinawa police is a good thing. But that doesn’t change the fact that Okinawa still hosts 75 percent of the U.S. bases in Japan, a disproportionate figure,” he said.

As for security cameras near bases and in entertainment districts, Tomoaki Fukuhara, a spokesman for the prefecture’s military bases division, said no final decision had been reached as to where, or how many, would be installed.

“There is some talk about putting them in Chatan — a popular district of bars and nightclubs that attracts marines from the Futenma Air Station and air force personnel from Kadena Air Base. But there are privacy issues that have to be dealt with first,” Fukuhara said.

However, antibase activists and some police doubt this will have much of a practical effect in catching criminals.

“How are you going to effectively electronically monitor all the military in Okinawa? It’s the same problem as doing patrols. There are too many U.S. service members and they live, work and travel all over the island,” Takazato said.

According to police testimony in the prefectural assembly earlier this month, since 1995, 40 U.S. service members have been involved in 29 incidents of violent crime, including 32 marines involved in 22 incidents.

During the same period, 17 U.S. service members were involved in 14 incidents of violence toward women, and 10 of those involved in eight incidents were marines. There are currently about 45,000 Americans in Okinawa covered by the Status of Forces Agreement, including roughly 23,000 service members and their families.

Since 1995, 864 U.S. forces-related individuals have been involved in 800 incidents of violent and nonviolent crimes, police said. Many of these were traffic violations.

By contrast, since 1998, there have been 1,886 serious crimes, including murder, armed robbery, rape and arson, committed by Okinawans. The prefecture’s population is about 1.36 million.

Yet few Okinawans, regardless of their position on the bases, believe the official figures reflect the reality. Suspected crimes committed on base may go unreported, as the U.S. is under no obligation to include Okinawan police in investigations into on-base crimes. And crime victims may choose to keep quiet.

“A lot of women or girls who have been sexually assaulted don’t go to the police out of shame and embarrassment, which is why there is an attitude among those who assault them that they can get away with it,” said Douglas Lummis, an American political scientist and long-term Okinawa resident.

Keeping track of U.S. military personnel, even those living off base, has always been extremely difficult for local governments. U.S. service members and their dependents are exempt from Japan’s immigration laws and do not have to register with local governments, carry alien registration cards or pay local taxes.

However, in the wake of the alleged Feb. 10 rape, one demand made by the Japanese government to which the U.S. agreed was to annually release the figures for U.S. forces-related individuals living on and off base.

According to the U.S., there were 22,772 service members in Okinawa as of the end of January, as well as 2,308 military-related civilians and 19,883 family members, for a total of 44,963. Of these, 10,748, or 24 percent, were living off base.