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The Zeiler Committee's warning to the Police Investigations Department (PID) earlier this week is still reverberating. It blasted the PID for failing to launch an investigation into the role of "a senior officer in the police force," after efforts to enlist rogue cop Tzahi Ben-Or as a state's witness failed and he fled the country.
At this point, though, there does not seem to be any suspicion of anything more than negligence in this decision. Indeed, so far, with the apparent exceptions of Yoram Levy and Ami Gur, the committee has not indicated that it suspects any of the other institutions or individuals that have received warning letters of having broken criminal law.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a great deal of satisfaction among many people over the fact that the PID is going to have to answer some tough questions.
Indeed, tough questions have been asked of the PID ever since it was established by the government in 1992. It was established precisely because it did not seem proper that the police should investigate its own members, as had been the case since the establishment of the state.
Nevertheless, suspicions have remained ever since that the department continues to protect the police force even from its relatively new perch in the State Attorney's Office. After all, some 45 out of the 76 investigators and intelligence operatives in the department were loaned to the PID from the police.
Former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg found that in 2002 there were 3,409 complaints lodged against policemen for using unnecessary force. Of these, 65 percent were not investigated, 30% were investigated and closed, 3% led to disciplinary action and 2% led to criminal indictments.
The figures are similar for 2003. Of 3,916 complaints, 96% were either not investigated or closed and only 1% led to criminal charges.
In explaining these low figures, the PID told the state comptroller that in many of these cases, it had been a matter of the civilian's word against the policeman's, with no way to prove which was telling the truth. There is usually no witness to testify on behalf of the plaintiff.
However, in an interview last year, the head of the PID, Herzl Shbero, complained that there had been a "conspiracy of silence" among policemen and border policemen which made it difficult to investigate the complaints and find corroborating evidence.
These arguments do not satisfy many human rights organizations and minority groups.
The most controversial decision ever made by the PID was taken last year, when it decided to close the files on 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian who were killed during the October 2000 riots.
"The many contradictions between the PID findings and the report of the Or Judicial Commission of Inquiry cannot be reconciled," wrote Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, after the cases were closed. "These contradictions only further strengthen the certainty of criminal negligence on the part of the PID in the investigation."
But it is not only the left that is critical of the PID. Orit Struck, head of the Human Rights Organization in Judea and Samaria, told The Jerusalem Post that the PID was not given parallel means to investigate police as the police force and state prosecution received to investigate civilians. It lacked funding and manpower. Most of its staff came from the police and returned to the police and saw life through the eyes of the police, she said, adding that there was a symbiotic relationship between the top echelons of the state prosecution and the police, and that they were close personal friends who often vacationed together. Struck also charged that the PID did not choose the cases they would investigate according to their merits but according to the interest displayed by the media or by senior officials.
Although the allegations against the "senior police officer" do not involve violence against civilians, it is possible that the failure to investigate is indicative of an overall reluctance to investigate the police. The PID will have to prove to Zeiler that this is not the case.
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