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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Setting a permanent curfew for U.S. military folks in Japan should be used only as a last resort, said Rear Adm. James Kelly, commander of Naval Forces Japan.

But his current restriction on drinking hours for active-duty servicemembers in the Yokosuka area might stay in place “for quite some time, if not forever,” he said.

Kelly spoke to Stars and Stripes in an interview Wednesday about limits placed on sailors in the wake of high-profile crimes in which U.S. Navy personnel in Japan stand accused, including the Jan. 3 beating death of a Yokosuka woman.

“If the only reaction is to enact a curfew, then we stop engaging with our communities,” Kelly said. “I don’t think a permanent curfew is the right way to go.”

The push to make “good behavior more permanent” has spurred discussions on which liberty restrictions might stay, which might go and which might be expanded over the long term.

Currently, drinking hours have been curtailed for all active-duty military personnel at Yokosuka Naval Base. Additionally, the 8,500 sailors and airmen in the Kitty Hawk Strike Group are under a 1 a.m. curfew and “liberty buddy” requirement.

If the statistics are any indication, restricted liberty works, Kelly said.

“In the last few weeks, we’re not having the incidents,” he said. “But we want to make this the standard as opposed to saying we’ve had a few good weeks.”

At Yokosuka, focus groups of sailors, master chiefs and flag staff are getting together to brainstorm ideas on how to improve behavior, Kelly said.

Force discipline also is to be on the agenda Friday when Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan commander, convenes Navy, Army and Marine Corps.

“What we’re after,” Kelly said, “is doing the right things long- term that will positively affect health, behavior, growth and the professionalism of our force. We’re trying to achieve a balance.”

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