TOMIOKA, Fukushima Prefecture--Nearly a year after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident, law enforcement officers are vigorously patrolling the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the plant, trying to crack down on a rash of burglaries.
Thefts reported in the eight municipalities under the jurisdiction of the Futaba Police Station in Fukushima Prefecture totaled 920 cases in 2011. The station is responsible for law enforcement in most of the no-entry areas.
Of the 920, theft by break-ins totaled 804, climbing to about 13 times that of the previous year. Of the 804, 594 cases occurred during residents’ absence.
Of the total number of households, this figure means that about one in 40 was a victim of theft in 2011.
Thefts were also reported from ATMs at convenience stores and elsewhere, with the loss of cash reaching several hundred millions of yen in total. Other items taken included electrical appliances, jewelry and farm equipment, police said.
The number would be higher if unreported cases are included, police said.
Fukushima prefectural police have set up checkpoints on the main roads and roadblocks on the back roads since April 2011, when the no-entry zones were designated. Police said a considerable number of crimes were committed before April, when entry was easier.
Police said reports of crimes from residents increased after May, when they could start returning to their homes for brief visits, although break-ins continued to occur.
Only eight people have been arrested in connection with the thefts in the eight municipalities, according to a report. The police attribute the low arrest rate to a lack of witness testimonies, with many having evacuated, the long period of time between the crimes and the reporting, and malfunctioning of surveillance cameras due to blackouts.
On Feb. 17, police officers Yoshiyuki Yokoyama, 33, and Morio Matsumoto, 40, entered Tomioka on patrol in a police car, one of the eight municipalities, at 11 a.m.
They spotted a man standing in front of a home, and Yokoyama began questioning him, starting out by asking if he was alone.
“It is disappointing. I built this house only four years ago,” said Toshio Kazawa, 66, who was on a brief visit.
Even though part of the no-entry zone in town is expected to be lifted in April, Kazawa is unhappy.
“If people can enter the town freely, I’m afraid burglary cases may increase,” he said.
At 1 p.m. in the town of Okuma, eight officers in protective gear started working a checkpoint. They stopped a minicar.
“Would you show an entrance permit and your driver’s license?” one of them asked the male driver.
Another police officer checked the number on his permit with the headquarters by radio. They inspected the trunk of the car, including where a spare tire was stored.
The driver told me that he had been questioned and had his car checked in the no-entry areas five to six times.
“Even though the town is empty, I often see police cars,” he said. “It is no longer unusual.”
Eleven vehicles passed through during the next hour and a half. Police found no indication of any involvement in crimes.
At a residence, a resident who returned home for a temporary visit that day discovered that his house had been broken into. A lock on a window was broken, and he said cash he had in his kitchen was missing.
“A new house or a large house is likely to be targeted,” Yokoyama said. “There is no precedent to investigate such crimes (of evacuated homes) in the world. We are looking for ways to investigate.”
Late at night the same day, the two parked their police car in a parking lot of a convenience store in Tomioka at around 10 p.m. They turned off their headlights and shielded the light from their dashboard.
The two officers held their breath, while keeping a watch for any cars on the prefectural road before them--where no cars should be.
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