Israel Police patrol car [File].
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Justice Ministry department tasked with investigating police accused of breaking the law fails to properly handle thousands of complaints and inquiries regarding officers’ behavior, and the Israel Police fails to act on many of those complaints, according to a State Comptroller’s Report published on Wednesday.
“Thousands of cases opened due to claims of misconduct by police officers of varying degrees of severity do not receive disciplinary treatment or organizational treatment, which includes, among other things, operational lessons learned and others,” the report said.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said there is a “weakness” in the handling of police offenses. He described a situation in which “thousands of complaints” fail to be properly examined. When the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Division closes a criminal probe of an officer, the findings are usually not forwarded to the police so it can, if appropriate, initiate internal disciplinary proceedings or draw lessons from the case.
The report, which made reference to the indictment last week of officer Moshe Cohen for beating an Arab truck driver in the Wadi Joz neighborhood of Jerusalem, captured on video, said the police and the PID must deal “thoroughly” with complaints against officers, or risk “damaging the public’s trust in the police and the government system.”
Cohen submitted his resignation from the force on Monday.
In a September survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics, only 39% of the general public assessed police performance positively.
Shapira also criticized the Police Investigation Division. “Most of the cases in the PID are closed in the preliminary stages, and only in a minority of cases does the PID decide to question police officers under caution and indict police officers on criminal or disciplinary charges.”
In 2015, approximately 90% of 6,320 cases the PID opened into officers’ conduct were eventually closed, and only approximately 4% resulted in an indictment, the report said. From 2013 to 2015, 43% of complaints against officers were closed with only a preliminary investigation.
The report concluded that the PID along with the Attorney-General’s Office should examine what policy to follow in cases of police force being used against civilians.
The document also examined the police’s progress in eliminating racism against citizens of Ethiopian descent, stating that the recommendations of a 2016 Justice Ministry report on eliminating police racism together with police actions are positive steps. However, the report noted that much remains to be done to produce adequate changes in the field.
The PID said it welcomes the report, but that some of the criticism has already been addressed, and blamed a lack of manpower in the PID to fully deal with all complaints. “The figures for the past year indicate thousands of inquiries were examined and handled professionally by the authorized bodies in the department,” the statement said, adding that in 750 police were questioned under caution and in 30% of those cases one or more officers were indicted on criminal or disciplinary charges.
The PID also said that it is not responsible for examining the command or organizational actions of officers, and only forwards information if it believes there is sufficient evidence to bring the officer to a criminal or disciplinary trial.
In response to the report, the Israel Police said that it has adopted the conclusions and will work to implement recommendations. However, the police contended that many of the complaints have already been examined and adopted by the force.
Police said they have been conducting assessments of the integrity, obedience to orders and procedures, and general values of officers. The assessments have been carried out since 2015 on officers ahead of promotions, officers in various units, and before recruitment to the force. Police said they plan to expand the assessments to all officers, saying that they are “highly reliable in predicting inappropriate behavior.”
Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich has also established a team to review how the police in general and individual officers operate.
Ami Palmor, director-general of the Justice Ministry, welcomed the report and said many of the recommendations were previously addressed and are in the process of being implemented.