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The Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department has selected 16 candidates from outside of law enforcement to become investigators, PID head Herzl Shbiro announced on Thursday, a first step towards "civilianizing" a department which is often criticized as being biased in favor of the policemen it probes.
Twenty percent of the complaints investigated by the PID each year result in criminal indictments or disciplinary charges, according to Shbiro, who was speaking at an Israel Bar symposium on the controversial department.
"That's no simple accomplishment," Shbiro said of the figure, and added "I'm proud of this result."
Shbiro acknowledged that the PID doesn't investigate more than 2,000 of the roughly 6,500 complaints lodged each year, most of them being rejected on the grounds that the incidents "were not of public interest," that is, minor complaints the department decides are not worth investing their limited resources in.
Since it was established in 1992, all the investigators have come from the ranks of the police, to which many have also returned. Many critics have accused the investigators of being caught in a conflict of interest between their loyalty to the police and their job of investigating them.
Shbiro also pointed out that the number of investigators in Israel is much smaller than in other countries. So far, there are only 50 investigators of the police for a population of 7.3 million in Israel, compared with 650 for a population of nine million in New York and 400 for 7.5 million in London.
He said the police investigators had a tough assignment because it was particularly difficult to interrogate policemen, many of whom had experience of their own in interrogations.
Prosecutors also found themselves in the unusual situation of having to try and convince the court to take the word of the witness - often a criminal - who had complained against the policeman, over the word of the policeman.
The courts tend to believe the officer, whose testimony is often backed by his comrades.
However, Shbiro rejected the claims that PID investigators were soft on those they investigated and said that the investigators were devoted to their work. "This is our life," he said.
MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), head of the Knesset Interior and Police Committee, said that investigations of police had been taken out of the police department's jurisdiction and transferred to the Justice Ministry to restore public confidence in the police. However, the PID had failed to achieve this aim since its investigators had all, until now, come from the police.
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