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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. military and Japanese police are increasing vehicle checkpoints off-base here during the holidays to discourage drinking and driving, base officials said Wednesday.

“We want you to have fun and to celebrate the holidays, but we want you to do it smartly and safely,” said Maj. Joe Milner, commander of Misawa’s 35th Security Forces Squadron.

A checkpoint could be set up “throughout Misawa proper,” Milner said. “We try to make them unpredictable.”

Both U.S. military and Japanese police will stop Japanese and U.S. motorists randomly. A blood-alcohol content of .03 is the legal limit in Japan, “which is basically a beer or glass of wine,” Milner said. On U.S. military bases in Japan, the legal threshold is .05

The consequences for an American pulled over off base, with a BAC more than .03 but less than .05, depends on who has jurisdiction, Milner said.

“If the Japanese National Police let us have them, we would take your keys on the spot and tell you you can’t drive for the next 12 hours,” he said, noting the person would not be formally charged.

“On the flip side, if it’s just a JNP checkpoint and you’re .04, you're going to be over.”

The joint checkpoints began this fall after a string of alcohol-related incidents at Misawa, Milner said. “We went to the JNP and asked if they would be willing to do them. The day we went, we started them that night,” he said.

In conjunction with the random vehicle stops, the base will continue its weekend downtown patrols of local bars, Milner said. Each commander from the 35th Fighter Wing’s four groups volunteers one weekend per month to walk Misawa’s bar district with Security Forces personnel.

“It’s not as much for enforcement as it is taking care of each other,” Milner said.

The town patrol makes sure someone who appears intoxicated has a safe ride home. Sometimes the mere presence of the commanders and police serves as reminder “to stay safe and not do dumb things,” Milner said.

A more large-scale downtown patrol — a joint U.S. Air Force, Navy and Japanese National Police initiative to help curb civil disturbances and alcohol-related incidents in Misawa city — took place the evening of Dec. 19, base officials said.

Milner was joined by the 35th Mission Support Group commander, Misawa Naval Air Facility commander, Navy law enforcement officers, Misawa city’s police chief, a Misawa city council member, the head of JNP public security, and about 40 JNP personnel.

The group visited about 18 bars and distributed flyers and Christmas ornaments with anti-driving-under-the-influence slogans; the Japanese police chief talked to bar owners, encouraging them not to serve any patron who seemed overly intoxicated, base officials said.

Milner said no bar owners turned them away.

The large joint downtown patrol is an annual event, dating back for at least seven years, Milner said.

“The idea is for community awareness — we’re not just looking specifically at base residents,” Milner said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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