National / Politics

Police to step up patrols in Okinawa after woman's murder

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The government pledged Friday to bolster patrols in Okinawa Prefecture as it works to allay ongoing fears about crimes by U.S. military personnel, following the alleged rape and murder of a local woman by an ex-marine.

According to the plan that was hammered out in a government meeting the same day, Okinawa police will deploy an additional 100 officers to local police stations as well as 20 extra patrol cars by the end of this year to enhance security.

The plan also provides for the creation of the so-called Okinawa community security patrol unit comprising 100 patrol cars.

“It’s the government’s job to protect the lives and assets of Japanese citizens,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

The announcement comes amid renewed anti-base sentiment in the prefecture after Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, a civilian worker at Kadena Air Base, allegedly raped and murdered Rina Shimabukuro, 20. A large rally against the U.S. base is also scheduled for later this month.

Tokyo apparently hammered out the countermeasures to mitigate an expected backlash against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party from locals in the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election on Sunday.

Ahead of Tokyo’s announcement, the U.S. military on May 28 imposed a 30-day midnight curfew on all Okinawa-based service members, as well as a ban on consuming alcohol outside bases. The new rules also prohibit festivals, celebrations and concerts.

Yet, Okinawans are reportedly not satisfied by the action, given that similar countermeasures imposed by the U.S. military in the past have failed to prevent the reoccurrence of such crimes.

This sentiment was highlighted in a opinion poll this week by local newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Television Broadcasting Co.

According to the survey results, 42.9 percent of respondents said a full withdrawal of the U.S. military from Okinawa is the best solution to prevent crimes by U.S. military service members and base workers.

The poll also found that 79.2 percent of respondents supported the revision or abolition of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which currently gives jurisdiction to the U.S. if service members or base workers violate Japanese laws while on duty.

Even though Shinzato was not on duty when he is alleged to have murdered the Okinawan woman, the SOFA has still been stoking anger among Okinawans.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Thursday said he was considering possible changes to how the SOFA is implemented. But he stopped short of saying the U.S. would revise the agreement.

Carter, who is in Singapore attending the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Shangri La Dialogue, is scheduled to have bilateral talks with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on Saturday on the sidelines of the Asian security summit.

Tokyo and Washington have previously agreed to some leeway in their enforcement of the almost 60-year-old agreement.

For example, under Article 17 of the SOFA, custody of a base worker or service member over whom Japan will exercise jurisdiction remains with the U.S. until the person is charged by Japan.

However, after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three American service members, the U.S. agreed to give “sympathetic consideration” to any request to transfer custody in specific cases of “heinous crimes of murder or rape.”