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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008

THE ZEIT GIST

U.S. military crime: SOFA so good?

The stats offer some surprises in wake of the latest Okinawa rape claim


By MICHAEL HASSETT
Special to The Japan Times

On Friday night, Aug. 18, 2006, at a third-story apartment within a gated community outside Atlanta, Ga., 31-year-old Kendrick Ledet sat contemplating life. And death.

News photo
ILLUSTRATION CHRIS MacKENZIE

Ledet was familiar with various forms of high-tech weaponry — particularly the semi-automatic M-16 rifle — but on this day he decided to go low-tech, departing from us slowly by slicing through the arteries in his arms with a knife.

Moments earlier, this terribly troubled soul had forcefully struck a coworker in the head before strangling her with his forearm. And that was preceded by a violent sexual assault. She was only 22 years old, a student studying marketing at a nearby university.

Three years before the parents of Lauren Cooper happened upon this awful scene inside their daughter's apartment, the perpetrator of this crime, Ledet, was among us here in Japan.

Well, not exactly among us, since he was doing hard labor inside a Japanese prison. From 1996 to 2003 Ledet resided in a Yokosuka jail, where he spent many of his waking hours assembling cell phones and making auto parts for Mazdas and Nissans.

And before that? Well, if you've been in Japan for a while, you probably know the rest of the sordid story: In September 1995, Ledet and two of his buddies from Camp Hanson on Okinawa decided to rent a van, kidnap a 12-year-old Japanese girl, force duct tape over her mouth, bind her hands and rape her repeatedly.

Disgusted? I was. The memory of this atrocious crime came flooding back to me upon hearing of the latest charge of rape against yet another U.S. serviceman. Moreover, it brought back to mind a remarkable claim I came across while reading about the shift of many U.S. forces to Guam: The assertion that members of the U.S. military are four times less likely than a Japanese citizen to commit a crime on the island of Okinawa.

Skeptical? I was. Let's look at the numbers and see what they really tell us.

First, we need to know how many Japanese and non-Japanese we have in this country, and how many tourists are passing through. In 2006, Japan had a total population of 127.77 million people. Some 2.08 million of those were registered foreigners, and 51,321 of those registered foreigners were U.S. citizens not covered under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Japan and the U.S.

A SOFA clarifies the terms under which a foreign military is allowed to operate in another country, and covers service members, their dependents and certain civilian workers. In October 2006, the American military community in Japan consisted of 96,790 SOFA-covered individuals.

During the same year, Japan welcomed a little more than 4.98 million foreign tourists, and 490,472 of those were from the U.S.

Now let's see how many arrests we had that year. The National Police Agency reports 384,250 for penal code offenses, such as murder, bodily injury, bicycle theft and the like. Of these arrests, 14,418 were of non-Japanese, 211 of which were U.S. citizens not covered by the SOFA and 120 of which were SOFA-covered individuals. Illegal immigrants were responsible for 13.2 percent of penal code offenses by non-Japanese.

In addition to penal code offenses, there were 83,147 arrests for special law violations. Non-Japanese accounted for 12,303 of these, 84 of which were U.S. citizens not covered by the SOFA and 25 of which were SOFA-covered individuals.

What's a "special law violation"? Basically it's a breach of a certain established law, such as the Stimulants Control Law, Firearms and Swords Control Law, or even the Horse Racing Law.

Now, before we continue, take note that here in Japan an arrest indicates that a person was taken into custody by police. It does not indicate whether the case was prosecuted in court or whether the suspect was convicted.

A little math gives us an arrest rate of 0.351 percent for Japanese in Japan. For non-Japanese here — tourists and registered residents, excluding illegal immigrants and SOFA-covered individuals — the arrest rate would be a little lower at 0.326 percent, assuming that illegal immigrants were also responsible for 13.2 percent of special law violations. And if we were to deem arrests of tourists to be negligible, the rate for registered non-Japanese residents would surge to around 1.115 percent.

For U.S. tourists and U.S. citizen residents of Japan not covered by the SOFA, the arrest rate would be 0.054 percent. And if we were to assume arrests of U.S. tourists to be negligible, the arrest rate for U.S. citizens not covered by the SOFA would increase to 0.575 percent.

A strong argument can be made against the inclusion of transgressions of the Immigration Control Law and the Alien Registration Law, which may inflate arrest numbers of non-Japanese. But Japanese can and do violate these laws. In 2006, of the 35 arrests for violations to the Alien Registration Law, eight of those arrests were of Japanese.

Moreover, once we move down this path of discounting particular transgressions, we open up a giant can of worms because certain other laws — the Public Elections Law, for instance — could be considered to be inherently biased against Japanese.

The rates we have calculated so far are for the entire Japanese archipelago. However, approximately 75 percent of the total land area exclusively used by U.S. forces in Japan is located in Okinawa. So let's narrow our focus to Okinawa Prefecture.

In 2006, the Okinawan islands had a population of 1,368,000 people, 6,808 of which were registered foreign residents not covered by the SOFA. In 2006, there were 4,188 arrests for penal code offenses and 605 arrests for special law violations. Foreigners not covered by the SOFA were responsible for 44 of these penal code offenses, and we can use partially reported figures to estimate that this group committed around 22 special law violations.

Doing the math gives us an arrest rate of 0.342 percent for Japanese in Okinawa, a bit lower than the rate for the entire country.

Now let's turn to the U.S. military in Okinawa. There are about 42,570 SOFA-covered Americans living in the prefecture. In 2006, 63 SOFA-covered individuals were arrested for penal code offenses. Eleven arrests for special law violations can be estimated. A little math using these numbers gives us an arrest rate of 0.174 percent, about half that of Japanese in Okinawa (0.342) and the entire country (0.351).

Shocked? I am! It's particularly surprising when you consider that almost half the U.S. military population is 25 years old or younger. In fact, 80 percent of U.S. service members are younger than 35. And men comprise nearly 85 percent of the U.S. military force.

If we were to attribute 80 percent of arrests of Japanese in Okinawa to men and women aged 15 to 64, a group that makes up 65.1 percent of the prefecture, the arrest rate among Japanese in this age bracket in Okinawa would rise to 0.420 percent. In fact, we would have to attribute 67 percent of arrests in Okinawa to those under the age of 15 and over the age of 64 before the arrest rate of Japanese in the 15-to-64 age bracket would fall below that of SOFA-covered individuals in the area. Shocking indeed!

Let's not pretend, though, that living among foreigners trained to kill is Disney in fatigues. On-base arrest data is not released. Environmental issues and land-use concerns abound. And noise has always been a problem.

However, there were no arrests in Japan of SOFA-covered individuals for rape or sexual assault in 2006, even though the NPA did arrest 1,094 Japanese for rape and another 4,733 for sexual offenses — that's nearly 16 a day.

Many feel that society would be great if we had no need for military forces, but as long as governments don't feel the same way the fact remains that we have to put them somewhere. All of which raises the question: Is it hypocritical to give such disproportionate media exposure to crimes committed by U.S. service members when the data shows that their adherence to our laws apparently exceeds our own?

Questions about data, calculations and sources used in this article can be directed to the author at mshassett@gol.com. Send comments on this issue to community@japantimes.co.jp


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