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NAHA, Okinawa — Americans affiliated with the U.S. military on Okinawa were charged with 37.5 percent fewer crimes during the first five months of 2004, Okinawa Prefectural Police reported Wednesday.

From January to May, Americans were a focus in the investigation of 25 serious crimes on Okinawa under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, a police representative disclosed. That’s compared with 40 during the first five months of 2003.

The police representative was at a meeting of the Okinawa Cooperative Working Team at the Okinawa Liaison Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Naha.

The Working Team is made up of representatives of the U.S. military, Japanese national government, Okinawa prefectural government, police and municipalities hosting U.S. bases, the U.S. Consulate, local chambers of commerce and entertainment district associations.

Twenty-four representatives attended Wednesday’s meeting, the 12th since the Working Team was formed in 2000 to discuss servicemembers’ off-duty behavior and prevent “accidents and incidents” by SOFA-status personnel.

“Constructive opinions were exchanged in a very cooperative atmosphere,” Naohiro Tsutsumi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Okinawa Liaison Office deputy chief, told reporters following the two-hour closed-door meeting. He said most members were encouraged by the declining number of crimes involving Americans.

“Many members said the joint efforts by police and the military officials contributed to this favorable trend,” he said, noting that a further decline was expected since the Marine liberty card program, which places a midnight curfew on young Marines, was launched in June.

Working Team members were confident the new program would further reduce the number of incidents by military personnel, he said.

“Although the Liberty Card Program is getting much of the spotlight, military officials from the other services say they have similar systems which control the liberty activities of their members,” Tsutsumi said.

According to the crime report the committee reviewed, Okinawa police investigated SOFA-status Americans in connection with 25 “serious” crimes between Jan. 1 and May 31, resulting in 30 arrests.

Of those crimes, 12 cases involved theft, compared with 18 cases during the same period last year, and 4 were listed as “violent,” the same number as the first five months of 2003.

No Americans investigated for “heinous” crimes were reported during the period, compared with 3 in 2003, according to police. Heinous crimes are listed as murder, rape and arson.

Also reported were two “intellectual” crimes, or cases involving fraud, compared with six during the same period in 2003; six minor offenses, compared with seven the year before; and one “morals offense” compared with two the previous year.

“What the members believed was really important was ... that the trend is decreasing,” Tsutsumi said. “... This has great significance.”

Ryojin Kuwae, Okinawa City Entertainment Business Association director, said he was pleased to see the military working closely with police and other officials.

Tsutsumi said prefectural police are working closely with military courtesy patrols to monitor late-night activity in popular bar districts.

“They have increased the number of police officers patrolling certain areas at certain hours and are giving the necessary information to the owners and managers of the entertainment businesses,” he said. “They are also working closely with military police.”

The U.S. military conducts uniformed and plainclothes “courtesy patrols” in the areas just outside the main gates of camps Hansen and Schwab, Kadena Air Base and the Mihama entertainment district in Chatan, near camps Lester and Foster, he said.

“I am particularly pleased that the hours of the courtesy patrol in our area [Uechi and Gate Two bar districts] were extended to 6 a.m. from 2 a.m.,” said Kuwae. “This is exactly what I have proposed years ago. I feel military officials are now seriously considering the opinions and requests by the local communities.”

Tsutsumi said other more indirect anti-crime measures also are being taken.

He said he believes the more troops and their families understand Okinawa’s unique culture, the better they will feel about being good neighbors.

“Coming into contact with a different culture will help them adjust and blend into the local community,” he said.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering providing lecturers on Okinawan culture and history for on-base newcomer briefings.

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