Police patrol on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
rare cause for celebration gripped the Israel Police last week, as they inaugurated a massive, NIS 2.9 billion training facility outside Beit Shemesh. Coming in the midst of an era of scandals, the dedication of the gleaming, sprawling facility was marked as nothing less than a triumph for the battered organization.
According to police figures, the academy sprawls over some 64,000 sq.m.on a more than 23-hectare (57-acre) plot, and incorporates the activities of some 19 police training facilities nationwide.
The facility has mockups of a nightclub, a courthouse and a mall, for counter-terrorism units and other officers to train for hostage situations, terrorist attacks or to shoot their own action movie or reality show if the desire strikes. The academy has room to house well over 1,000 overnight guests and feed more than 3,000 people, who can kick back at the 2,000 seat amphitheater after emptying a few clips at one of the nine shooting ranges.
Typing or reading that paragraph one can’t help but feel this is a grandiose, possibly even excessive, undertaking.
The project is eventually to cost NIS 2.9b., which is being funded through a public-private partnership between the state and the company that won the tender – Policity group. In a first for Israel, a private corporation is managing a state facility of this sort and is responsible for bringing in private contractors to train police.
In the week before the official opening ceremony, th e police sent out a statement to the press saying that the “vision of the school is for it to create a culture of excellence and professionalism for the Israel Police,” in that the superior facilities and higher standard of training will help produce a more professional police force.
It seems a sort of Field of Dreams style logic – “if you build it, excellence and professionalism will come.”
The Israel Police have long been also- rans, far down the prestige ladder from the Army, Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), perched somewhere above the Prisons Service and more or less on par with the Border Police.
They aren’t pampered, they aren’t adored and they typically don’t get the perks and the blank checks the elite security services and the army often do.
It makes sense that they would want such a flagship institution and that they would relish being the recipients of such a budgetary windfall. Still, one wonders whether or not this is the way to repair what ails the law-enforcement agency.
The facility, no matter how state-of-the- art, will not change public perception that the police are an organization rife with scandal, as one senior commander after another has resigned or was fired in a series of sex scandals over the past couple of years. It’s unclear how the facility could build bridges with the Arab community, after the police use of deadly force this past year in communities such as Kafr Kana and Rahat sparked riots that could have easily spun far out of control. Top-notch facilities probably won’t erase the still lingering public criticism of police that came following the “100 dispatch” scandal last year, when police dispatch operators failed to heed a call placed by one of the three kidnapped Israeli teens.
Seeing as these problems aren’t ones caused by deficient technology or poor training facilities, one is left with the feeling that the NIS 2.9b. could have potentially been better spent on police salary increases or on increasing manpower in crime-ridden communities.
The police are very concerned about their public perception, a fact that is obvious in what top commanders say behind closed doors to the press. They realize that changing perceptions will take years, in particular repairing damage caused by the recent spate of sex scandals and tension with the Arab community which has remained since the deadly events of October 2000.
It’s hard to see how the new academy will solve these problems.
On Saturday, Police Chief Insp.-Gen.Yohanan Danino spoke about a series of issues facing police, including the sprawling 242 corruption case (better known as the “Yisrael Beytenu case”) as well as what he described as police success restoring quiet to Jerusalem. In the first case you have one of the largest public corruption cases ever in the country, which police launched despite any possible political pressure. That case went public just a couple months before the investigation against the Musli family broke, one of the biggest police organized crime cases for some time, which could possibly deal a serious blow to Israel’s richest crime family.
In the second case, a major police deployment in the capital helped quell violence that spread fear throughout the city and beyond, as so-called “lone wolf attacks” were happening with terrifying frequency. Danino and others in the police were vocal in their criticism of politicians they said were inflaming the situation, despite the criticism they withstood for doing so.
These cases are good examples of how police can restore public faith – through serious, long-term and important investigations and through deployment in the line of fire to protect civilians from deadly violence. In neither case it is clear how, if at all, a gleaming, hitech facility like the new academy could have helped the situation.
With the police academy open, the police will have less luck complaining about a lack of resources or that they’ve been neglected by the state. Their only option now is to continue to focus on the long road ahead. ■
The writer covers crime, African migrants and security issues for The Jerusalem Post. He also writes and hosts “Reasonable Doubt,” an English-language crime news podcast on TLV1.FM. His blog can be found at www.benjaminhartman.com