If you have ever been to Japan you might have seen brightly coloured balls stored near the cash register, in everything from your standard 7/11 right up to corporate banks. Even police stations sometimes have them. Despite the fact they resemble baseballs in size and shape, (some even have stitching to complete the effect) these balls are intended for a very different purpose.
Called bohan yo kara boru (anti crime colour balls), they are designed to be used by employees in the event of a robbery. The balls are filled with brightly coloured orange paint. Should the shop fall foul to the demands of an opportunist thief, clerks are supposed to lob the ball at the perpetrator, marking him in order to aid the police when giving chase.
If the idea of throwing a ball at a potentially armed robber is something you would think twice about – especially if you were only on minimum wage to be there in the first place – you wouldn’t be alone. According to reports by the National Police Agency, there were 230 late-night store robberies during the first half of 2007.
In 197 of those incidents, or 85.7 percent, the store had colour balls at the ready. In only seven of all those cases — a mere 3 percent — did an employee actually throw one. (Kudos goes to them). The fact is, not only would being involved in a robbery be a terrifying ordeal, it would also take a confident individual with a pitching arm like Babe Ruth to ensure satisfying splatter contact in light of the circumstances.
However, to increase the chances of a successful throw, it is recommended shop staff aim for the floor near the culprit’s feet. The resulting splash back is said to be just as effective in aiding police to recognize a robber on the loose. And if the opportunity presents itself, there is always the getaway car.
With a greater surface area to aim for, employees are encouraged to give chase where they can in order to fling a ball at the fleeing vehicle. But back to the rather underwhelming statistics. With only 3% of incidents actually resulting in a employee taking positive action, it does beg the question as to why bother keeping the balls in the first place.
Well like any good form of crime prevention, the balls are seen as a deterrent. A criminal in Japan knows of the existence of these balls. If faced with a choice of an establishment to rob; one with bright orange balls by the counter and one without, it makes sense that they would opt for the latter.
Origins of the Orange Balls
It transpires that the anti crime balls were developed about 20 years ago. Back then Japan had a real problem with toll evaders on the national highways. In order to mark the offenders tollbooth attendants were resorting to throwing raw eggs at vehicles. In order to provide a better solution someone came up with the pigment-filled balls as an alternative. The use of the coloured anti crime balls quickly spread from toll booths to banks, and by the late 80s, convenience stores had them too.
Many police stations began to keep them, while newer users include hotels, gas stations and even the Japanese Marine Self-Defence Forces. The balls have a limited shelf-life (the pigment hardens after a few years).
This means that including existing users who buy replacements, the Japanese market is said to require a supply of around 100,000 balls a year.