An attack last Sunday morning on a 26-year-old officer at a police box in Suita, Osaka Prefecture — allegedly by a man who stabbed him multiple times before stealing his gun — comes on the heels of a recent series of fatal assaults on police officers, including a June 2018 case in the city of Toyama, in which the assailant used the gun he took from the officer he killed to fatally shoot another victim.
Measures taken by the police in response to the attacks, such as introducing a new type of holster that makes it more difficult to remove an officer’s gun, getting officers on duty to always wear their bulletproof vests and reviewing personnel deployments at police boxes to make sure they are manned by more than one officer, did not prevent the latest assault. While the runaway suspect in the Suita case was arrested the following day without apparently using the gun he stole to harm anybody else, the police need to examine why their system once again allowed such a horrific assault to take place and fix any shortcomings that are found.
The stabbing took place at a time when thousands of police officers from across the country were being mobilized to tighten security in the prefecture ahead of the Group of 20 summit that will be held in Osaka next week. The incident put local communities on alert as the suspect, a 33-year-old resident of Tokyo who used to live in Osaka, fled with the officer’s revolver, which contained five bullets. Municipalities in the area shut down public facilities, while the local city prepared to close all public schools on Monday if the suspect was not arrested by the morning.
Public disclosure of images of a suspicious person captured on security cameras led to information that helped police identify the suspect and seize him in the nearby city of Minoo early Monday morning. When the man was arrested, the revolver he had stolen from the officer contained only four bullets and it was not immediately known whether he shot the one missing bullet and where it had been discharged. Meanwhile, the officer, who sustained multiple wounds including one on his chest, remained unconscious and was listed in serious condition, although his condition is now said to be improving following surgery.
The nation’s police box system functions as a foundation of neighborhood security and safety. Uniformed police officers, including those stationed at police boxes, in principle carry guns while on duty. Since 2013, there have been eight cases (not including the latest one) in which officers at police boxes and on other duties were attacked and were stripped of their guns — and in five cases the stolen guns were fired.
In the June 2018 case in Toyama, a 46-year-old assistant inspector at a local police box was fatally stabbed by a 21-year-old former Ground Self-Defense Force member, who stole his gun and then shot to death a construction company security guard at the gate of a nearby elementary school and fired two shots at the school — before being shot and subdued by police who rushed to the scene. Three months later, an officer stationed at a police box in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, was fatally attacked by a man who visited the facility saying he had found a lost item and then shot him with an air gun and stabbed him with a knife. The man was later shot to death by another officer whom he also tried to attack.
The Toyama case prompted the police to move forward their plan to introduce a new holster that makes it more difficult to remove the gun linked to the officer’s waist belt with a cord. The new holsters are being distributed to uniformed Osaka police officers, but the officer in the Suita box police was reportedly using an old-style holster. Since there are a total of 12,589 police boxes and small-scale stations manned by uniformed officers nationwide, distributing equipment is expected to take time.
The Suita case also highlights the staffing problem at many of the police boxes. The police box where the attack took place was manned by three officers. But when they got a false emergency call by someone — believed to be the suspect himself — that a theft had taken place at a nearby house, two of the officers rushed to the reported scene, and the third officer was attacked when he was left alone at the facility. Normally, multiple officers are stationed at each police box and take turns on shift duty to man the facility, but there are times when an emergency happens that only one officer is left at the facility — or none at all. Police believe that the suspect planned in advance the plot to attack the officer when he’s more vulnerable.
The fact that officers at police boxes become the targets of assault is disturbing in terms of the safety and security of the communities they are tasked to protect. Constant efforts need to be made to prevent such attacks, including a review of the staffing system and work shifts at police boxes.