(photo credit: Courtesy)
Members of the general public feel more threatened by crime now than in the past, a new survey by a former senior police officer has found.
The poll's results undermine recently released police figures pointing to a drop in the crime rate.
In a study carried out by Dr. Danny Gimshi, head of the Community Safety Research Institute at Rishon Lezion's College of Management Academic Studies, together with the Smith Institute, 500 adults were questioned in 2008 about their sense of personal security. The survey found that 43 percent of respondents "felt less secure than they did in the previous year" due to crime.
Forty-seven percent of those asked said they were worried about becoming victims of crime in the areas in which they lived, compared to 40% in 2007.
Residents of the center of the country most feared becoming victims of crime, the survey found. Breaking and entering, violent crime, and organized crime topped the list of most feared crimes among respondents.
The results appear to fly in the face of figures published last month in the police's annual report, which said that violent crime had fallen by 6.4% in 2008 and that property crimes were down by 13%.
Gimshi, who has served in the police for more than three decades, told The Jerusalem Post the police figures have been manipulated to present a positive picture.
"The figures are so shallow. If you compare them with police reports from 10 to 15 years ago, you can see that today's reports contain fewer figures and more numbers that cannot be used in a meaningful way. It looks like the police are hiding things," he said.
During his time in the police, Gimshi commanded three stations (in Gaza, Rishon Lezion and Ramle), before serving as head educational officer and head of community policing. He played a pivotal role in introducing the concept of community policing to the country. He also served as head of the Crime Prevention Council within the Ministry of Public Security.
One example of how crime rates can be manipulated is the reclassification of offenses, Gimshi explained. "An attempted home burglary can be reclassified as property damage if nothing is stolen," he said, a useful trick in light of the fact that breaking and entering offenses are seen as being more severe than damage to property.
"The police report does not talk about where the crimes took place and who was affected. These are facts that were once given," Gimshi said.
The alleged gap between police reports and the reality on the ground isn't unique to Israel, Gimshi noted. "Internationally, there is an average 30% to 40% gap between the results in police surveys and independent surveys of victims," he said. "A good first step would be for police to conduct more independent surveys of victims of crime."
CRITICS OF surveys of public perceptions of crime could claim that people's feelings are subjective, making them bad indicators, but Gimshi believes that personal perceptions form excellent litmus tests on the general state of crime.
"We need to know what the people think, not just what the police think," he said.
Police sources have said in the past that disproportionate press coverage of certain crimes serves to distort public perception, but Gimshi thinks the press is merely doing its job.
"It's a positive thing that the media put these issues at the center of the agenda. For many years, violence within the home and the abuse of women was not on the police's agenda. It was the media which highlighted the issue, causing police to take it up. There's no doubt that this coverage has an influence," he said.
Beyond the media, personal experiences and experiences of family and friends most shape a person's sense of personal security, Gimshi said.
The significant gap between the public's lack of security and police reports on falling crime rates illustrates the need for wide-ranging reform across the police force and the entire law enforcement system, Gimshi maintained.
"This isn't only an issue of a lack of resources. On the contrary, I believe that Israel is not doing badly in terms of police officers to general population ratios, despite claims to the contrary. My basic theory is that the Israel Police needs sweeping reforms in its organizational structure, its priorities and its working techniques," he said.
The reform must begin at the local level, Gimshi suggests, where local authorities should join police in taking a series of preventive steps against crime, as well as the rehabilitation of offenders. "The police can't do this alone. It must have partners, and it must shift its focus toward problem solving. Local authorities can provide the best partnership," he said.
Under Gimshi's plan, a local authority would appoint an urban director for crime=fighting affairs. The civilian commissioner, answerable to the mayor, would coordinate professional resources including the police, social welfare services and educational programs. "The local commissioner would be engaged in crime mapping on a city level rather than a national one," he explained.
On the state level, a national crime-fighting authority should be created under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office or the Justice Ministry which would "centralize all the national efforts and support the local infrastructure," Gimshi said, adding that such approaches were dominant in countries all over the developed world.
Within the police itself, an FBI should be assembled to fight organized international crime, Gimshi said, adding that the Lahav 433 anti-organized crime unit did not fit the bill. "Officers in 433 can still be transferred to other units. The new agency I am proposing could be modeled on the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency]. We have a worthy model here."
The police's organization structure was producing small-minded bureaucrats shut off from reality who had no desire to exert a significant effort, Gimshi said. "Police officers have no backup from their superiors. The main question is who will be promoted and when. This comes at the cost of imbuing officers with professional problem-solving skills."
On the corruption front, Gimshi stressed that despite a number of isolated cases, "the Israel Police is one of the cleanest in the world."
INSP.-GEN. Dudi Cohen often points out that the Israel Police is in the unique position of having to simultaneously face terrorist threats, public disorder incidents (often tied to tensions with minority groups) and traditional crime-fighting duties.
Gimshi believes that the time has come to divide the police into two main arms. "The first, the 'green force,' will deal with internal security and take on antiterrorism functions. The Border Police already exists to fulfill this function," he said. "The second arm will focus on criminal investigations and on serving the public."
He points to a 1974 government decision, taken following the terrorist massacre at Ma'alot, which tasked police with providing internal security, as being a major error. "That was when the dominance of antiterrorism was established over crime fighting. This has harmed professionalism, and it's why we need two bodies," he said.
The October 2000 riots, when police shot dead 13 Israeli Arabs, is proof of a lack of professionalism which stems from the current, nonspecialized structure of the police, Gimshi said.
He stresses the importance of community policing, which surfaced in the West in the 1980s. "The models have improved vastly since then, and today community police includes problem-oriented policing. Instead of dealing with symptoms, officers are trained to deal with the problem. Today, this is also backed by crime science," Gimshi said. Israel has a long way to go before it catches up with the latest innovations in community poling, he added.
Other structural changes that would benefit the force would include doing away with superfluous organizational levels. While today the police is divided into four levels - the national headquarters in Jerusalem, followed by districts, subdistricts and local stations, Gimshi says there is no need to hold on to the subdistrict level.
"Why do we have head investigators on four levels stepping on each other's toes? Today there are computers, the Internet, cellphones. The country is too small for all these levels," he said.
The national headquarters is "like a fat body with thin legs," Gimshi said, pointing to what he said was an overstaffed building. "Every third person there is an officer. In the UK, one out of every 12 people at the national headquarters is an officer. We need more civilians - not everyone who deals with technology and science has to be from the police."
Gimshi has little doubt that his proposed reforms would meet "heavy resistance" if the incoming government tried to implement them. In fact, he suspects that up until now, decision makers here never really wanted a very effective police force to begin with.
"When the state was founded, many things happened which contravened the law. For parties and leaders, the law was not central. There was a country to build, and corners were cut. This includes all manner of shady political deals. The commander of Tel Aviv police during the early years was Amos Ben-Gurion, son of the first prime minister. He had no interest in interrogating the Mapai Party," Gimshi said.
"Generally, all Israeli governments have had no interest in seeing an efficient police. But now, there is an opportunity. A new government has been elected, and personal security issues have found their way into the public agenda."
If the government takes on the challenge, the police force could face radical reforms. "All of this requires leadership, determination and risk taking, as well as the will to deal with all the heavy resistance that will result," he said.
Gimshi said even apparent crises can be leveraged in favor of the police, such as the growing unemployment resulting from the global economic crisis. "The newly unemployed are excellent people. They can be recruited into the police via retraining courses, giving the force an outstanding injection of personnel while saving the National Insurance Institute money."