Concerned citizen’s report leads to baffling, (probably) harmless discovery.

At around 6:30 p.m. on Monday evening, the police in the city of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, were contacted by a local who’d seen something unusual in the town’s Takaginishimachi neighborhood. “There was someone spreading a white powder around as they were walking,” the tipster told them, adding “They looked like a foreigner.”

In response, the Nishinomiya Precinct mobilized a detachment of officers to the area where the tipster said they’d seen the unusual scene, arriving shortly before 7 o’clock and setting up a protective perimeter by shutting down traffic in a 120-meter (394-foot) east/west section of the street. Members of the fire department, equipped with hazmat gear, also took part in the operation, during which nearby residents were asked to stay in their homes until the potential danger could be assessed.

The alleged powder-spreader was nowhere to be seen, but the authorities did indeed find a white powder, on the sidewalk and in the shrubbery next to the walkway, in over 50 spots along that section of the road. Lab workers took samples for testing to determine what the substance was, and the following day announced their findings, saying:

“There is a 98-percent certainty that the substance is wheat flour.”

And so the community can breathe a sigh of relief, as it appears there’s neither a cocaine-smuggling drug runner or an anthrax terrorist running around Takaginishimachi. Mixed in with that relief, though, is the bafflement of why anyone would go spreading flour along the roadside like this, as shown in Twitter comments about the incident such as:

“Someone walking around sprinkling flour is scary enough in its own way.”
“The world’s gone nuts.”
“What’s that person hope to accomplish?”
“I’m pretty sure they’re not a terrorist trying to trigger anaphylaxis in people with a wheat flour allergy.”
“All the same, spreading flour like that on the sidewalk is a public nuisance.”
“What’s with the ’98-percent certainty?’ Figure out what it is!”

▼ Regarding the last comment, it definitely seems like modern science should be able to tell us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether or not a substance being examined is something as common as flour, but given our track record with the scientific process, it’s not our place to criticize professional lab technicians.

Still, with no locals suffering injuries or otherwise requiring medical treatment stemming from the incident, it seems like the powder really is just flour, or something equally harmless. As such, mobilizing the police and fire department might look like overkill, but that’s something that’s only easy to say with the luxury of hindsight.

Purposefully spreading powdered substances in public places is definitely unusual behavior, so it’s not like a witness would automatically think “Oh, that’s just flour!” Especially following the Kyoto Animation arson attack, there’s an increased awareness among public safety officials about being diligent about suspicious behavior involving unidentified substances. There’s also a theory that some acts of petty borderline vandalism are a method by which plotting criminals test how observant a neighborhood’s residents are, with a longer period of inaction an indicator that future thefts and burglaries would be less likely to be noticed until after the crooks have made their getaway. As the alleged powder-spreader has not been found, however, the motive remains unknown.

Add it all up, and this is a case where the police and fire department would rather have a situation that’s safe and silly than have their inaction lead to one that’s sorrowfully harmful.

Source: Kobe Shinbun Next via Jin, Twitter
Top image: Pakutaso
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