Uniformed cops being able to make combini runs is meant to be a win-win for police and the communities they serve.

There’s really no overstating just how important a part of life in Japan convenience stores are. In a country with busy lifestyles, stark seasonal weather differences, and cities largely designed for walking, popping into a convenience store to buy a can of iced coffee, a bottle of hot tea, or a couple of Pokémon Poké Ball rice balls is an almost daily occurrence for a lot of people.

So inside Japanese convenience stores you’ll see shoppers both young and old, students, businesspeople, and and retirees. What you wouldn’t see in a convenience store, though, at least until now, were police officers, at least in Oita Prefecture. As part of their conduct code, officers with the Oita Prefectural Police were prohibited from shopping at convenience stores while in uniform. The worry was that citizens might mistakenly think they were ditching their duties to browse the shop’s wares instead, damaging the police’s reputation and wakening the public’s trust in them.

On November 29, though, the Oita Prefectural Police announced a relaxation of the policy, and officers can now shop in uniform at convenience stores, as shown in the video below.

▼ Up until a few weeks ago, an officer would have been facing disciplinary action for this.

So why the change? A couple of reasons. First off, the old policy was detrimental to operational efficiency. If officers needed something to eat or drink while in the field, perhaps in the middle of an extended neighborhood patrol, they’d have to first return to the station and pick up a jacket (one not designating them as police officers) to wear over their uniforms, then go back to the station again to drop the jacket off after they were done shopping.

That’s a lot of wasted time that could be spent in better ways, especially when Oita’s statistics show an increase in convenience store crimes. Just through October, the prefecture says there have already been 8.2 percent more shoplifting reports filed by convenience stores in Oita than in all of last year, and cases of e-money fraud at convenience stores look to be on pace to end the year up 12.7 percent compared to 2021 too. Decision makers are hoping that the new policy will give the police a more noticeable presence in convenience stores, and help to reduce crime.

It should be noted that the number of reported convenience store shoplifting cases through October in 2022 was just 66, with 77 e-money scams in the same period. That’s not exactly the sort of crime wave that they’d make an ‘80s style action movie or ‘90s beat-em-up arcade game about, but an uptick is still an uptick, and a clerk at the Oita City 7-Eleven shown in the video said “Having police officers shop while in uniform is reassuring, and I think it’ll help prevent crimes,” and online reactions have been largely positive with what many see as a common-sense change in regulations.

With its new rules, Oita becomes the 40th prefecture to allow cops to shop at convenience stores in uniform, leaving just seven holdouts nationwide. The relaxed regulations in Oita do come with the stipulation that shopping is to be limited to essential items such as food, drinks, and medicine, so officers in uniform remain prohibited from buying things like cigarettes, beer, or weekly manga magazines.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Yahoo! Japan News via Itai News
Top image: Pakutaso
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