Munenori Inoue / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Riot police officers engage in a search-and-rescue operation in the city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 15, 2011.
Takanori Sato, left, and Shozo Koyama
Although the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred more than nine months ago, riot police are still patrolling the devastated areas.
The Metropolitan Police Department began dispatching riot police to the disaster-hit areas immediately after the earthquake struck in March. A total of 130,000 police officers have so far been dispatched on a rotation basis.
Even now, 270 officers patrol the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, while others make sure disaster victims living in temporary housing units can sleep soundly at night.
In early April, women’s screams echoed off the mountains of rubble in the city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. A mother and daughter were clutching the body of the family’s 18-year-old eldest son, crying and calling his name.
Shozo Koyama, a 48-year-old officer of the ninth riot squad, stood mutely by as the women thanked him over and over for finding the youth. Koyama says he will never forget their gratitude.
The MPD’s riot police take pride in being one of the nation’s largest riot police squads.
Made up of 3,000 officers, they have rotated in and out of the disaster-hit areas, bearing the brunt of the search for bodies. Recently, they also have shouldered the important task of ensuring the safety of the more than 100,000 people living in temporary housing units.
In November, officers of the ninth squad dispatched to Miyagi Prefecture visited each individual temporary housing unit, often kneeling to chat with elderly people living alone. They said despondent faces gradually brightened during these visits. They also entertained local children by letting them sit in patrol cars. Quite a few children were heard to say, “I want to grow up to be an MPD police officer.”
Takanori Sato, a 41-year-old officer of the fifth squad, was put in charge of patrolling the no-entry zone around the nuclear plant on Dec. 26. The area around the nuclear plant is a lonely, debris-filled place. “It feels like time’s standing still here,” Sato said.
The MPD will continue to send riot police to the disaster-hit areas for the foreseeable future. “The disaster victims inspire us. We want to see the recovery happen with our own eyes,” Sato said.
(Jan. 3, 2012)