A kōban (交番 kōban) is a small neighborhood police station found in Japan. The term is also used to refer to the smallest organizational unit in a modern Japanese Prefectural police department. Small kōban buildings, staffed by uniformed officers at around 6,000 locations all over the country, are the bases for community policing activities which complement the work of larger, central police stations. Since the 1990s, many of them have been equipped with signs reading KOBAN in Latin script.
A kōban is typically a one- or two-story building with a couple of rooms (although there is wide variation), staffed by one to ten (or more) police officers.
The officers assigned to kōban belong to Community police affairs sections (地域課 chīki-ka) of police stations (警察署 Keisatsu-sho). They are able to keep a general watch, respond to emergencies, give directions, and otherwise interact with citizens on a more intimate basis than would be the case if they were operating from a more distant station. Although often translated into English as "police box", kōban bear little resemblance to the police boxes formerly found in the UK.
The name kōban derives from the name of the earliest structure built in 1874, which were indeed simple boxes meant for standing watch (立番 tachiban) in rotation (交替 kōtai), thus creating a compound word consisting of kō (交) and ban (番). Soon after, in 1881, kōban were transformed into local community stations with as many as six officers and a new official name Hashutsujo (派出所) was given to it — although its common name, "kōban" survived. "Kōban" was further systematized and spread out nationwide, playing an important role in the Japanese police system over decades. In 1994 the official name Hashutsujo (派出所) was changed back to kōban. One of the issues recognized in the last several years as most significant around the kōban system was the existence of aki-kōban (空き交番, un-manned stations). According to the National Police Agency, this issue was addressed and solved by 2007.
Small police stations similar to the Japanese kōban are also found in parts of China and Singapore. Additionally, the kōban system has become popular with international police training and assistance programs, particularly those of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JICA has invested money in establishing kōban-style community policing programs in several countries, including Indonesia, Brazil, and Honduras.
In 2017, the TMPD has been posting officers in kobans who speak more than one language to help tourists and foreign expats, using the Kabukicho Koban in Shinjuku and the Shibuya Ekimae Koban.
Police officers stationed at kōban serve several roles:
- Maps and directions – providing maps and directions to local addresses, sometimes even personally guiding those unfamiliar with local street layouts and addressing schemes. Additionally, officers can refer people to local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.
- Lost and found – accepting reports of lost items and accepting found items from members of the public and, if a matching lost item is turned in, notifying the owner of the item to come pick up the item.
- Crime reports – taking police reports, typically for property crimes such as theft and burglary.
- Emergency services – dialing the emergency telephone number "110" in the case of police, fire, or medical emergency. Direct contact can be made with the kōban and assistance will be dispatched.
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