SOFA-related crime reports relatively low on Okinawa
August 17, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The incidence of crimes allegedly committed by Americans on Okinawa under the status of forces agreement for the first half of the year was a mixed bag, Okinawa police say.
While the number of felony and major misdemeanor crime allegations decreased, the number of SOFA personnel arrested dramatically increased. According to Okinawa Prefectural Police statistics, 36 SOFA personnel were arrested during the first six months of this year.
That’s 11 more than the same period last year, an increase of 44 percent.
However, the number of crimes attributed to Americans connected with the military dropped by two, from 46 charges in the first half of 2007 to 44 so far this year, a decrease of 4.5 percent.
"That’s because more individuals have been involved in single cases," an Okinawa police spokesman said. For example, four teenagers and a 21-year-old Air Force military policeman were charged with robbing two cab drivers in March.
The number of Americans arrested reverses the downward trend that began in 2003. However, Okinawa police are hesitant to make too much of the numbers, pointing out that the numbers are too small and appear to be more significant than they actually are.
Crimes by Americans appear to be a major problem largely because of the attention they get in the local and international press and protests by anti-base groups on the island, analysts have said.
When a columnist for the Japan Times examined crime statistics for the prefecture in February, he said he was shocked to learn the per capita arrest rate for SOFA-status Americans on Okinawa was half the rate of the prefecture’s general population.
"It’s particularly surprising when you consider that almost half the U.S. military population is 25 years old or younger," wrote Michael Hassett.
This year also saw a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew for all active-duty servicemembers in February in the wake of two alleged rapes and a series of lesser alcohol-related incidents.
Air Force officials attribute the low crime rate to a number of programs.
"We believe this is a reflection of our continued efforts to educate our airmen about the need to conduct themselves as ambassadors and good neighbors in Japan," said Beth Gosselin of 18th Wing Public Affairs.
"From our newcomer’s briefings to commander’s calls to our day-to-day emphasis on proper conduct, the message is being heard and understood that there is no tolerance for behavior that jeopardizes relations with our host nation.
"While the number of overall crimes is continuing to decrease, there is still more work to be done. And we will continue our prevention and education efforts."
Army Maj. James Crawford, chief of public affairs for United States Army Japan, said the positive stats are "indicative of the increased command influence resulting from the period of reflection" that followed the February rape cases.
"Some of the units have instituted a buddy system that is mandatory," he said.
Crawford said USARJ also has stepped up awareness through mandatory drug and alcohol abuse awareness, sexual assault, and harassment prevention programs."
"The number of crimes committed by U.S. Marines and their dependents continues to remain proportionately low compared to the overall crime rate on the island," said Marine spokesman 2nd Lt. Kurt M. Stahl said in an e-mail. "Status of Forces Agreement Personnel make up about 4 percent of the population on Okinawa, but are historically involved in about 1 percent of crimes," he said.
"By far, the vast majority of Marines respect and abide by both the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and civilian/local laws," he said.
"Those Marines who break the law are few and far between, and they are dealt with in an appropriate manner by the Marine Corps chain of command."
According to the six-month crime report, of the 36 persons arrested, 13 were dependent juveniles, three were civilians and 20 were active-duty servicemembers.
Of the 44 crimes reported, six were considered "heinous," which covers murder, rape, robbery and arson.
There were also two allegations of violent crimes, a category that includes assaults, blackmail and extortion; 10 alleged thefts, which covers burglaries, car thefts and muggings; 17 allegations of intellectual crimes, which covers fraud and counterfeiting; one alleged moral offense, a category that covers gambling, indecent assault and molestation; and eight alleged "other" offenses, which include vandalism and trespassing.
Breaking down the dataOkinawa prefecture groups its crime statistics into six major categories:
■ Heinous crimes – murder, rape, robbery, arson
■ Violent crimes – assaults, blackmail, extortion
■ Thefts — burglaries, car thefts, muggings
■ Intellectual crimes — fraud, counterfeiting
■ Moral offenses — gambling, indecent assault, molestation
■ Other, which includes vandalism and trespassing
According to police statistics for the first half of this year, four people under the status of forces agreement were arrested for heinous crimes, one for a violent crime, 12 for thefts, three for intellectual crimes and five for trespassing.
Year-to-year comparisons of military and DOD civilian crimeJanuary-June 2008
■ 36 people arrested on 44 charges.
■ 20 active duty, including three minors (younger than 20).
■ 13 dependents, all minors.
■ Three civilians.
■ 25 individuals arrested on 46 charges.
■ 19 active duty, including five minors.
■ Six dependents, including four minors.
■ 30 individuals on 28 charges.
■ 20 active duty, including five minors.
■ 10 dependents, all minors.