Crime statistics in Tokyo are spiralling ever higher, as crooks constantly adopt new methods of swindling, extorting, robbing, and otherwise victimising people. So police in the capital are being forced to adopt newer crime-fighting techniques themselves. And that spells doom for many of the policing traditions - and the low crime rate - that once made Japan the envy of the world. The one that's most endangered is the tiny, neighbourhood police station known as the koban. A generation ago, the koban was the first place people would turn to for help. Today, fewer police boxes are manned around the clock, and some have officers passing through only once in a while. The lights are left on, however, to give the impression that the boys in blue are alert and ready to help. According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), there are 941 koban scattered throughout the city. And while 84 per cent are manned by two or more officers, 151 have only one - or even none at all - on duty. Now, 121 of them are to be downgraded or eliminated. Introduced in 1874, koban officers were meant to become part of the community in which they served. For generations, they have patrolled their neighbourhoods on foot or on bicycles. The koban are a deterrent to crime in Tokyo's entertainment districts. On busy intersections, koban officers keep an eye on traffic. But, in the suburbs, their most common work is giving directions to disoriented pedestrians. And it is these suburban koban that are most at risk. Twelve of the boxes will be demolished, and the others turned over to private security services or volunteer neighbourhood-watch schemes. One of those on the hit list is the Nishinaka-dori koban in Tokyo's Chuo Ward. It's the oldest one in Tokyo, dating back to 1926. The announcement of its demise has worried local residents and business owners, according to the Yomiuri Weekly. 'We were devastated by the news,' said Kosaku Murata, head of the local shop-owners' association. 'An officer at the station told me the decision had already been taken and there's nothing we can do about it.' Mr Murata has filed a protest about the decision, and is leading a petition-signing campaign to save the koban. The police department says closing the boxes will free up as many as 500 officers for other duties, including more mobile patrols that will be able to get to the scene of crimes more quickly. As Japan cuts back on its koban, other countries are putting renewed emphasis on community policing. The system has been adopted in Brazil, Fiji, Mongolia and Singapore, while police forces in the United States and Britain have studied the concept.