Bar-Lev's exclusion dismays policemen

Many suffering crisis of faith; watchdog wants Olmert to fire Dichter and Cohen over handling of case.

bar-lev 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bar-lev 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Attempts by Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Dudi Cohen and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter to fire Southern District chief Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev from the police are causing many under Bar-Lev's command to suffer a crisis of faith in the force, officers who served under Bar-Lev's command said on Monday. Bar-Lev, who has overseen a dramatic fall in crime levels in the South, is a highly popular district chief, both among his subordinate officers and southern community leaders. "Officers in the district are feeling very bad over this, because Uri is a leader," a senior officer in the southern district said. "During the hardest times for the police, when other districts were receiving bad headlines, this was the only place where officers could walk proudly with their heads held high. We were the only ones receiving positive headlines. People in the southern district were proud to be in the police. Now that he is leaving in the way he is, we feel that we are like everyone else. We're no longer special," the officer said. "Uri always talked to us about excellence. He said, those who excel move forward. This man is considered excellent, but he is out of the organization. People are now asking, what does this mean for us?" the officer added. The source described an intimate relationship between Bar-Lev and his officers. "If Uri heard a police officer had a problem, he would call him immediately. He was glad to have any reason to talk to his officers and listen to them. He was just happy to talk to people. He has dedicated many days to help others here. A lot of guys in the southern district owe him," the officer said. Bar-Lev's successful relationships extended beyond the ranks of the police, as he reached out to local residents, the officer said. "It's one thing to visit Osher Twito (the Sderot boy who lost a leg to a Kassam rocket) in hospital once and be photographed with him. It's another to visit him three times a week, as Uri did, arrange a computer for him, and a police uniform. He did everything for Osher. That's the kind of man he is. He loves people and people love him." The senior officer said that on a regional level, Bar-Lev's forced ouster would cause much damage to a neglected region of the country. "People here finally had a partner [in] raising the Negev up in the country's priority list. It became a place to be proud of," the officer said. Bar-Lev had established a working committee of senior officers and local council heads, which included the mayors of Beersheba, Ashdod, and Rahat, who met regularly to discuss regional issues, an initiative viewed by many in the south as a success. "Uri's departure is going to leave a very big vacuum." A second officer from the southern district said she hoped the low mood her colleague had described would not "be visible to citizens on the ground." "This is very sad for us," she said. "We have a very bad feeling over this. Today it's Uri, tomorrow it could be someone else. Uri has been forced out. We will do what we have to do, but his absence can't be ignored," she added. The officer said no one on the southern district had imagined that Bar-Lev's career could end in the way it apparently has. "Decisions should not be made through the media but in closed rooms, quietly, in the proper way." She described Bar-Lev as a caring police commander who "inspires us all. He is a man of the field, always in touch with the citizens. He was very close to the communities in the South, listening to their comments and taking notes on how to improve things." Cohen and Dichter's treatment of Bar-Lev was also condemned on Monday by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. MQG has requested that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sack Cohen and Dichter for their handling of Bar-Lev. Their message was echoed by the Organization for the IDF Disabled, which said that Dichter was "unfit for public office." Bar-Lev is a member of the latter organization, having lost a leg while on a combat operation in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Dicther and Cohen attempted to turn back the tide of negative media attention on their decision. Speaking on Channel 2 on Monday afternoon, Dicther said, "The plan was for Bar-Lev to set out on a two-year study leave, after which he would be given a new position. The current number of openings in the police are very low. Bar-Lev's repeated refusal to accept study leave sealed his fate in the police." In a statement sent to journalists on Sunday evening, Cohen wrote, "In the context of promotion and role assignment, there are moves that are not always visible to the eye... I have met with Cmdr. Bar-Lev a number of times and told him he would complete his duty in 2009 after a 4.5-year term, and that he would set out to study before being given a senior position in the summer of 2010. I also stress that in April 2007, he was offered the command of the Jerusalem or northern districts, but he turned those down." The police commissioner denied that personal animosity had guided his conduct. "My decisions were given honestly and in good faith, and despite the difficulties I do not regret the way [I have taken them]."