Throughout 2014, Kyoto Prefectural Police began an initiative having taxi drivers and late-night convenience stores work together to reduce incidents of armed robbery. Although still early, the program has so far been rousing success, leading to a 48 percent decrease in convenience store robberies compared to the previous year. They also get extra points for giving it the cool name of “Midnight Defender Strategy”.
■ Vigilance through hanging out
When first coming to Japan, one of the odd things I noticed was that in every convenience store you’d be likely to see a line of people at the magazine rack reading entire manga volumes and issues of Vogue. Where I come from such behavior would cause the clerk to issue a four-letter-word-laden reminder that I was not, in fact, inside a library.
At first I thought the staff in Japan were just too timid to confront these lookie-loos, but I later learned that such free reading was allowed because, in a roundabout way, these people are helping to guard the store by keeping it from emptying out.
However, these readers are usually your average students and office workers who have to go home at some point, leaving the stores without any loiterers to protect them. It’s during this dangerous window of 10:00pm to 7:00am that most convenience store robberies occur.
This is where the humble cab driver comes in.
■ Midnight Defenders
In Kyoto about half of the convenience stores had signed on for the Midnight Defender Strategy. These 500 or so shops hung posters with slogans such as “vigilance strengthening” written on them in their windows. These signs are indicators to taxi drivers that they are allowed to park there as long as they like during breaks. The stores lose a few parking spaces in the process but gain some extra eyes which may be enough to deter a would-be bandit from making their move.
Since the program started in September 2013 the number of armed robberies among participating stores dropped to four compared to 18 in the previous year. On the other hand, the shops which were not in the Midnight Defender Strategy saw an increase in robberies, up from seven to nine incidents compared to the year before. Overall the total number of robberies was nearly halved in the prefecture.
Police are clearly happy with the results and the shops are also pleased with not have knives waved in their faces, with one manager commenting: “Having the drivers around for any amount of time leads to a sense of security. Our midnight staff especially thanks them.” Taxi drivers are also pleased with the arrangement. “It really helps to have a guaranteed spot to park for breaks,” said one, “and I’m happy to contribute to crime prevention too.”
It appears to be a win-win-win situation for all involved, and if the number of robberies continues to be low we can expect to see the Midnight Defender Strategy pop up in other prefectures across Japan.
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