Fears over policing as crime surges in Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 20, 2009

It is not just the numbers — 12 civilians murdered in less than three weeks since the beginning of August, an abnormally high body count for crime in Israel. It is also the utter senselessness of most of the deaths.

Two gunned down in the attack on a Tel Aviv gay youth club, a case where the police are still struggling to identify a killer, or a motive; a young yeshivah student killed in the crossfire of a gangland shooting; mutilated bodies found in rivers; a father beaten to death after he confronted a group of men harassing his daughter; a violent lodger stabbing his landlady; and in all the cases, a police force seemingly impotent to intervene in time or project a degree of deterrence.

There is no question: the Israeli police is woefully understaffed and underfunded.

With an average of 2.65 police officers for every thousand citizens, a far lower ratio than in most Western countries, the police can hardly find the manpower to deal with rising levels of violence. It is far too busy investigating corruption in high places, fighting terror, policing the country’s wild highways — and soon, probably, evacuating settler outposts.

The Treasury has already authorised funding for 1,000 more officers and even more have been promised. However, not many suitable candidates can be found for a demanding profession with starting salaries of NIS 5,000 (£800) a month. And it does not get much better as you get higher up the ranks. No wonder that one of the greatest fears in the law-and-order establishment is criminal infiltration of the police.

The new idea doing the rounds is the formation of city police forces, under the command of the local authorities. These local officers will be cheaper than those reporting to the national police command, as the local authorities will contribute to their costs.

But while the Treasury is in favour of cheaper police, which might also help reduce unemployment, there is concern that many of the poorer, more crime-ridden areas will lose out once again. While only the wealthier cities will be able to finance a fully-fledged local police department, the national police will feel it can then lessen its presence on the streets and get on with its other jobs.

Last updated: 11:28am, August 20 2009