Police: Reforms have reduced tensions, improved relations with citizens

The police studied the most effective problem-oriented community policing theories and implemented them into practice.

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November 19, 2017 20:33
4 minute read.
An Israeli border policeman escorts a boy away from a blocked alley in Jerusalem

An Israeli border policeman escorts a boy away from a blocked alley in Jerusalem. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

 
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While the Israel Police has long been lauded for its advanced counterterrorism techniques, painstakingly refined over decades of constant attacks, it has never been viewed in a favorable light by the general public.

Regular reports of brutality among minorities, coupled by aggressive and frequently impersonal responses to domestic and non-criminal matters, have long engendered police distrust and hostility on a community level.

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Acutely aware of this negative perception, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh initiated reforms to improve community policing shortly after being appointed in 2015.

Utilizing a model called “Evidence- Based Policing,” which emphasizes building trust and addressing the most pressing concerns of all “normative” law-abiding citizens throughout the country, Alsheikh’s reforms appear to have gained traction.

Indeed, now nearly two years later, an Israel Police delegation was invited for the first time to present its results at the four-day 73rd annual conference of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) in Philadelphia over the weekend.

Comm. Lilach Laufman-Gavri, head of the Israel National Police’s (INP) Strategic and Research Department, spoke at the conference featuring presentations of the best practices of over 5,000 leading criminology experts from around the globe.

During her panel called “Contemporary Issues in Israeli Policing,” Laufman-Gavri presented the findings of the initiative, which she said has significantly improved the police’s relationship with communities across the country, while lowering complaints.

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“My lecture was about contemporary issues in Israeli Police research, including the effectiveness of the new reforms, called ‘Emun,’ (“trust”) set forth by Alsheikh to reduce crime and increase public trust,” Laufman- Gavri said Friday from Philadelphia.

“The essence of the approach is called ‘Low Policing,’ instead of ‘High Policing,’ which focuses on the normative citizen and addresses the problems in their communities.

We have asked people what bothers them, and then took steps to make proactive changes.”

According to Laufman-Gavri, the reform introduced Problem-Oriented Policing, Situational Crime Prevention, and other approaches developed by the police in conjunction with researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The reform, she said, involved 30,000 officers and 71 police stations in Israel.

“Since the founding of the State of Israel, the INP has been dealing in the fields of counter-terrorism, public order maintenance, and legislative policing – however public trust in the police has remained low all these years,” she said.

“Many citizens feel that the police are not concerned with the common problems they face, so this study focused on the impact of the reform on police performance to reduce crime while improving the public perception of the police.”

Through its collaboration with Hebrew University criminology experts, Laufman-Gavri said the Police studied the most effective problem-oriented community policing theories and implemented them into practice.

“We understood that we had to translate the reforms into a highly efficient management system that had to be flexible and adapt to diverse populations in different territories,” she said.

While reviewing copious amounts of data, Laufman-Gavri said HU and INP researchers also interviewed 25,000 citizens from diverse backgrounds throughout the country to better understand their primary concerns about police.

“We interviewed Arabs, Ethiopians, ultra-Orthodox Jews and other groups, and took all the data together in a pool to understand the police’s weakest points, improve them, and enhance cooperation and trust,” she said.

The most common complaints, Laufman-Gavri said, included the police response to domestic noise, poor traffic conditions, and dealing with general disturbances affecting millions of normal, law-abiding citizens.

“For example, in Ashkelon we asked the citizens what problems they prefer the police fix in their area, and 25% cited traffic interference, followed by domestic noise, property crimes, violence, and drugs,” she said. “Following the survey, we submitted the data and a statistical analysis of it to police commanders throughout the country, which resulted in four ‘mega-targets’ based on each community’s biggest problems.”

“The methodology is to take four major targets normative citizens are most concerned about and to focus on improving those targets, while gaining the trust and cooperation of civilians,” Laufman-Gavri said. “So we built a really advanced system that analyzes itself and provides self-correcting actions.”

Two years later, Laufman-Gavri said Emun has borne fruit, resulting in the Israel Police’s first invitation to present its findings in the conference’s 73-year history.

“There is now a 16% national decrease between this year and last year for 911 calls reporting violence, a 24% drop in property crimes and a 21% decrease in domestic noise complaints,” she said.

Moreover, Laufman-Gavri claimed the Emun reforms have outperformed similar models and metrics in the United States designed to improve community relations with the police.

“It is so effective because it focuses intensely on each community’s primary problems,” she said. “The Israel Police today is open to academic analysis, or Evidence-Based Policing, which is based exclusively on data. This has created an important shift in how the public is starting to view the police.”

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