Analyze this: When taking potshots at the cops is off target

By
September 9, 2008 06:38

It's not the time for officers to shoot themselves in their feet.

4 minute read.



Even in the calmest of times, in the quietest of societies, being a cop can be a thankless job. Charged with enforcing the law, they are bitterly criticized as lax and lazy when seen to be doing so with insufficient vigor, and accused of endangering democracy if perceived as carrying out their duties too zealously. As the "thin blue line" between societal law and disorder, they must constantly walk an even thinner line lest they overstep the authority granted them to enforce those laws. In this regard, the Israel Police is no different from its brothers-in-sidearms the world over. But a near perfect storm of recent events - the Olmert investigation, escalating underworld mayhem and the Uri Bar-Lev affair - has conspired in making the last few days in particular some of the blackest ever for the local men (and women) in blue, raising issues that in the coming months will require more serious attention than some of the shots - on and off-target - now being taken at the police by some public officials and the public-at-large. The most damaging of the former is surely the unprecedented criticism being directed against the police echelon by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann over its decision to recommend the indictment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. This is not the first such recommendation regarding a sitting premier, and the police could have refrained from doing so. Nor are they required to publicly announce their decision in a televised press conference, and Friedmann and former judge Eliyahu Winograd, among others, are not out of line in criticizing the decision taken to do so. But the police is neither a separate branch of government in and of itself, nor an exceptional entity given a more broadly defined mandate on the order of the Winograd Committee, which chose not to make specific recommendations regarding the political future of Olmert as regards his management of the Second Lebanon War. For that matter, neither, in this case, did the police. In proposing to the State Prosecutor's Office and the Attorney-General that Olmert be indicted, they merely exercised the due discretion given them under law, in circumstances that clearly gave sufficient justification to do so. What's more, at least as regards the Talansky and Rishon Tours inquiries, they did so in a timely fashion, in marked contrast to several other investigations of top governmental figures. Certainly, legitimate questions can and should be raised about the whole idea of having the police give specific recommendations regarding indictment for any crime - whether big or small - a system not utilized in the criminal justice of many other democratic states (such as the US). But the police didn't create this practice here, and professional jurists such as Friedmann and Winograd would surely be better off couching their objections in more general terms about changing how the law works, rather than attacking the practice in relation to this specific decision. At any rate, given how little support Olmert enjoys, it's doubtful that much (if any) of the public believes the police acted out of line. These days, the concerns of Israelis are generally focused far more on the perceived inability to enforce the law than any excessive application of it. That's especially true in relation to the seeming inability to curtail the activities of the local underworld, whose violent vendettas, including today's bloody shoot-out in Netanya, are claiming more and more innocent lives as they escalate. Again, the police have arguably become too much a convenient target in laying blame for a much larger public policy failure - the failure to understand the dimensions of this threat before it metastasized into the type of malignant social cancer it has now become. Granted, the dimensions of Israel's other security threats are so immense, it is understandable - to a degree - why budgetary concerns and bureaucratic inertia have long delayed the efforts to provide law enforcement with the tools it needed to fight the mob. It was only this year that Israel set up an equivalent (albeit on a much more minor scale) to the FBI's organized-crime division - the new Lahav 433 unit, and is also now hopefully putting the finishing touches on the debut of an official witness-protection program. Nor is it too much of a stretch to draw a line between resistance in some official circles to vigorous police efforts against political corruption, and the war on organized crime. The problems are interrelated, and not limited simply to more blunt efforts by gangsters to bribe, intimidate, or influence public officials. A laxity in stricter observance and enforcement of governmental ethics often ends up spurring the growth of those murky areas of commerce such as unregulated property development, gambling of both the legal and non-legal variety, and the huge "grey" market - where thugs such as the Alperons, Abergils and Rosensteins are able to prosper with a veneer of near-legitimacy. The police have more than their hands full in coping with these challenges, and, if anything, need even more support and encouragement from their partners and superiors in the law-enforcement establishment, rather than being made into convenient targets. That doesn't mean though they should be shielded from reasoned criticism when it is justified. A good example is the recent behavior of Inspector-General David Cohen in the matter of Uri Bar-Lev, a talented and conscientious district commander being forced to take an enforced leave-of-absence in the context of an internal power struggle among the top brass. That mess could hardly have come at a less opportune time. With no shortage of people lining up to take potshots at the police, this is hardly the time for its commanding officers to be shooting themselves in their feet. Calev@jpost.com


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