Israelis of Ethiopian origin demonstrated against police racism and brutality, May 3, after a video showing a policeman beating a soldier from the community went viral.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The police are working on new ways to avoid unfair profiling and work better with minority groups, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told The Jerusalem Post Monday, as legislation expanding police’s authority to conduct searches on a suspect’s person headed to a final vote in the Knesset.
The “Stop-and-Frisk Law” passed a final reading overnight on Monday.
Asked about the criticism of similar laws abroad – that they allow police to racially profile – Erdan said he is aware of the problem.
As such, he ordered a report on the issue from the RAND Corporation, a public policy research institution in the US.
“We want multicultural policing, to match our policing to the different populations we deal with and get to know them,” he said.
The police are introducing educational programs to get to know the unique needs of different population groups – Ethiopians, Arabs and haredim.
Erdan mentioned increased funding going into police projects working with Israelis of Ethiopian origin, including an emergency hotline answered by people who speak Amharic.
The police also doubled their recruitment goals for Israeli Arab officers and are working on opening more stations in Arab towns.
The final version of the stop and- frisk bill divides search authority between suspicion of terrorism and suspicion of criminal activity.
When a police officer suspects someone of committing a crime, the police may only search for weapons or drugs if the person is making threats, engaging in “verbal violence” or otherwise exhibiting intimidating or frightening behavior. Such searches may take place at any time or any place.
When there is a suspicion of terrorism, the bill’s instructions are similar to what they were for both terrorism and crime in its previous version: A police officer may search anyone, regardless of behavior, in a location that is thought to be a target for hostile destructive actions. Such a location can be declared by the regional commander for 21 days, and if he wants to extend it for up to two months, the Police Inspector-General will have to approve.
Police will have to inform passers-by that they are in a zone where they could be searched, so that they can avoid the area if they wish.
The new version of the bill also states that the inspector- general must formulate instructions as to how to search someone for weapons “in a way that ensures human dignity, privacy and rights.”
Erdan said that he “checked [the bill] internationally, and police in most Western countries have more authority [to check a suspect’s person] – even in places with a much smaller threat of terrorism.”
“Every citizen of Israel should want the police to have the ability...to collect intelligence and check a suspicious- looking person for a knife or other tool that can be used to stab,” he added.
Erdan also defended the bill’s application to situations in which there is a suspicion of criminal activity.
“Mothers want to know that their sons and daughters will come home safe from a soccer game or discotheque and not be stabbed,” he said. “It’s happened in the past.”
Erdan also pointed out that for many years, police would search suspects even when there was no explicit law allowing them to do so, “which is bad.”
“I’m proud and happy we finally fixed a distortion that existed for many years,” the public security minister said.