Pacific edition, Sunday, March 9, 2008

NAHA, Okinawa — Joint patrols by Okinawa and military police of entertainment districts adjacent to U.S. bases here may be on the horizon, according to a senior official of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Okinawa office.

“Joint patrols were among the agenda of the meeting today,” said Hideaki Kuramitsu, deputy chief of the Okinawa Liaison Office of the ministry, during a news briefing Friday following the 16th meeting of the Okinawa Cooperative Working Team.

Kuramitsu, however, declined to disclose details of the daylong discussion.

“Unlike a regular annual meeting for the working team, the Friday meeting was to put together various opinions of Okinawa and convey them to the (newly formed U.S. military) Joint Task Force, whose members are scheduled to visit Okinawa next week,” he said.

Kuramitsu said the task force, formed by U.S. Forces Japan late last month and consisting of 15 senior military officials, is expected to announce in four to six weeks its recommendations to help prevent sex crimes by U.S. servicemembers.

The idea of joint patrols was first suggested by the Japanese government in the wake of several recent high-profile offenses — including two alleged rapes by U.S. servicemembers. But it has been resisted by Okinawa police, who want assurances that servicemembers arrested or detained for infractions in town be placed in their custody pending legal action.

Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, military members taken into custody by military police for crimes outside the base gates remain in military custody until they are indicted by a Japanese court, although there is a “gentlemen’s agreement” for the early handover of people charged with major felonies. The agreement is unclear on who has jurisdiction if the arrest is made jointly.

U.S. Consul General Kevin Maher told Japanese reporters Thursday that the agreement between the two countries could be “improved,” but not formally revised.

“We definitely intend to improve the operation of the agreement,” Maher said. “It will not be a revision.”

The patrols would be separate from the courtesy patrols the military now runs in the bar strips outside Camp Foster, Kadena Air Base and Camp Hansen.

Those patrols, by staff noncommissioned officers in civilian clothes, have no law-enforcement authority.

They also do not patrol with Okinawa police officers. The courtesy patrols are instructed to contact Japanese police in serious situations.

The working team also discussed installing surveillance cameras in some of the entertainment districts, Kuramitsu said.

Such a proposal has been considered ever since it was presented at a meeting of the group in September 2006, but it was strongly opposed by Okinawa City on privacy grounds.

“Various opinions were lively exchanged over many subjects, including surveillance cameras and policies of off-base housing,” Kuramitsu said, refusing to elaborate.

Kuramitsu said there were pros and cons on every subject, but the members had one thing in common.

“We all agreed on the importance of increasing communications between Okinawa and military communities,” he said.

The working team is made up of representatives of the U.S. and Japanese governments, the U.S. military, Okinawa prefecture, the municipal governments that host military bases and business owners in the bar districts.

The team was formed in 2002 to exchange ideas to prevent misconduct by U.S. military personnel in the communities.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now