Gunma police use Facebook to provide foreigners with crime prevention information

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An official police interpreter asks a foreign student to follow the Gunma prefectural police’s Facebook page.

The Gunma prefectural police have set up a Facebook page for foreigners to provide them with crime prevention information. The aim is to make it easy for foreigners get the information by reading it in their native language utilizing Facebook’s translation function. Gunma has the nation’s highest percentage of foreign nationals among those arrested, prompting police to strengthen measures.

The prefectural police posted the following text in an effort to deter drunk driving: “If you drink even a little bit of alcohol, don’t drive a car!” The text avoids difficult phrases, and kanji characters are written with furigana.

They also send out information to alert people of suspicious persons, for example, “There was a suspicious man in the area.”

The prefectural police launched the Facebook page for foreigners in April this year. According to the police, this is the first official social media account specifically for foreigners among prefectural police. By mid-July, they had posted more than 40 messages, which were viewed by more than 250 people some days.

From Gunma prefectural police Facebook page
A Facebook post informs people of the location and date of a bear sighting.

Last year, 392 foreigners were arrested in the prefecture, 1.5 times the number of those arrested 10 years ago. Foreigners accounted for 10.4% of those caught, the highest percentage in the nation for the third consecutive year.

The prefectural police have been sending out information by e-mail and posting it on their website. However, the challenge has been to inform foreigners who cannot read Japanese. As of the end of last year, there were more than 60,000 foreign residents from 112 countries living in the prefecture. It was difficult to convey messages in their native languages.

The prefectural police then turned to Facebook, which has a translation function. Last year, they conducted a survey asking foreigners what social media they use most frequently. The fact that 80% of the 611 valid responses cited Facebook as their favorite social media platform encouraged them to set up the page.

Another advantage of the Facebook posts is that foreigners who have studied Japanese can understand the posts without translation, since they are posted in plain language.

A student from Bangladesh, who attends a vocational school in Maebashi, said: “I look at Facebook every day, so it’s convenient. It is easy to understand because of the furigana.”

The prefectural police are encouraging foreign residents in Gunma to follow its Facebook page through Japanese language schools for international students and companies where technical intern trainees are engaged.

“Foreigners are also an important part of the Gunma community,” said Yasunori Tajima, head of the prefectural police’s general countermeasures office for foreign nationals. “We would like to provide equal and timely information to prevent them from becoming either perpetrators or victims.”