If you happen to visit shops, commercial establishments, and even police stations in Japan, you might be baffled to discover bright orange baseball-sized orbs, generally placed next to the cash register. But they won’t be for sale, because believe it or not, they’re actually anti-crime devices!
The balls, locally known as bohan yu kara boru, derive their bright hue from the orange paint that fills them. In the event of a theft or robbery, store employees are supposed to fling the balls at the perpetrator. When the balls hit the thief, they will burst, marking him with orange paint and making it easy for the police to identify and apprehend him.
As hilarious as they are, the anti-crime balls remain largely unused. In fact, research conducted by Japan’s National Police Agency indicate that they have been used in only three percent of robberies so far. That’s understandable – when faced with a life-threatening situation, throwing a paintball at an armed criminal is probably the last thing you’d want to do. If you miss, it might just be the last day of your life.
Interestingly, staff members in shops are given training on how to throw the balls effectively. They’re asked to aim at the floor near the culprit’s feet, because the resulting splash will ensure that some paint will stick to him anyway. If that doesn’t work, employees are asked to throw the anti-crime balls at the getaway car – another indicator that the police can look for. In spite of this training, the balls haven’t been used much.
So keep them at all? Well, the anti-crime balls seem to be doing their job just by being present, because they act as a deterrent to crime. It seems that criminals choose not to rob stores where the balls are present, just to avoid the possibility of getting marked and caught later. “Even if the balls aren’t actually used, that they are in the store and visible to would-be thieves helps protect the store,” public safety officer Akihiro Suwa told The Japan Times reporter Alice Gordenker. “That’s why we, and police departments around the country, ask banks and store owners to include color balls as part of their crime-prevention efforts.”
“We have introduced color balls in all of our 8,500 stores, and we put signs on them so there’s no mistake about what they’re there for,” said Kazuo Kimura, senior manager for public relations at a convenience store.
“Still, arrests do happen thanks to color balls,” Gordenker wrote in the 2008 article. “Just last month, a man held up an agricultural cooperative in Yokohama and made off with a bag of cash. When an employee was able to mark the getaway truck with a color ball, the thief abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot. But the police tracked him down through the truck’s registration and arrested him at home.”
It seems that the balls were developed over two decades ago, as a replacement for throwing eggs at criminals! “At that time, the nation’s highways had a problem with toll evaders, and toll-booth attendants had taken to throwing raw eggs at vehicles that charged through without paying their tolls,” Gordenker wrote. “ While the police appreciated this effort to mark non payers, they felt it was inappropriate to use food for the purpose. So someone came up with pigment-filled balls as an alternative.”
The balls have a limited shelf life, because the pigment tends to harden over time. So existing users need to keep purchasing replacements, which makes the market an estimated 100,000 balls a year. There’s no marketing, though: manufacturers keep a low profile in order to prevent individuals from buying them for vandalism.
via Japan Times