Booze, Liberty Restrictions Cut Crime on Okinawa


CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa -- Strict new liberty and alcohol rules coincided with a historic drop last year in crimes committed by U.S. personnel on Okinawa, according to statistics released this week by the military and Japan government.

Crimes committed outside base gates by the 47,000 status-of-forces visa holders on the island -- a number that includes troops, civilians and dependents -- fell to 32 total offenses in 2013 from an average of 56 per year over the previous 10 years.

It was the lowest number since Okinawa reverted back to Japanese control in 1972, according to the Cooperative Working Team, a low-level bilateral meeting Tuesday between the Japanese government and U.S. military and State Department officials.

The SOFA-visa offenders historically account for only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the military community on Okinawa. But a string of violent and drunken incidents in 2012 – including the gang-rape of an Okinawan woman by two sailors – caused a surge of public outrage and led the military in the Japan to issue new restrictions on going outside the gates and drinking alcohol.

The military has mostly avoided embarrassing off-base incidents since.

Lt. Col. David Honchul, spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan, on Thursday attributed the dip in SOFA crime to a variety of factors.

"It proves our overall efforts, upon which the liberty policy is just one tool, have been a success," Honchul wrote in an email.

He said the military believes it is due to "a combination of solid leadership at all levels, the training efforts we have undertaken, and our servicemembers internalizing our professional core values."

Since early last year, all troops in the country have faced a ban on off-base drinking from midnight to 5 a.m., and troops ranked E-5 or lower are subject to a late-night curfew.

In addition, Okinawa-based troops were banned from all off-base drinking for the first half of 2013. USFJ eased the Okinawa drinking ban in June and began allowing servicemembers on the island up to two alcoholic drinks while dining in the evening at off-base restaurants. Drinking at bars and clubs is still forbidden.

The Marine Corps leadership on Okinawa has also emphasized cultural awareness training for newly arriving servicemembers, Col. Peter S. Rubin, staff judge advocate for Marine Corps Installations Pacific, wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes.

The tightened liberty and drinking rules track with a slight reduction in vehicle wrecks during the period, according to the statistics released this week.

Last year, traffic incidents that involved SOFA members and resulted in bodily injury dropped to 188 from 200 in 2012, the working group reported.

Still, the reductions in 2013 are unlikely to spell any relief from liberty and alcohol restrictions for servicemembers on Okinawa.

"The liberty policy is just one tool commanders have, and I do not see this news affecting how long it will or will not remain in place," USFJ spokesman Honchul said.

-- Reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.

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