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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The course of action presented on Sunday by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to curb violence appears impressive, but it remains unclear whether the premier intends to pay for it.
Netanyahu was rather vague when asked by Army Radio and Israel Radio whether the police's restrictive budget, which prohibits the force from taking on badly needed recruits and paying serving officers a decent salary, would be significantly increased.
While leaving open the option of more money for police, Netanyahu emphasized the need for police to use existing resources "more efficiently."
But with officers earning an average of NIS 4,000 a month, a salary which can barely keep a household afloat, it is difficult to see how an efficiency model borrowed from the corporate world can truly improve the police.
Few doubt that police can use funds more efficiently, but shifting the focus to the usage of resources, rather than addressing the missing resources, would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
As Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has argued, an increased police budget must be included in any realistic attempt to combat violent crime. Until Netanyahu forces the Finance Ministry to find the missing cash, no plan to tackle violence, no matter how well-thought out, can truly succeed.
What was also missing in Netanyahu's plan was a call to invest state funds and efforts in derelict neighborhoods across the country. Impoverished streets have allowed gangsters and crime organizations to recruit youths,and are the breeding ground of a climate of fear in which lawbreakers flourish.
What begins with groups of young men roaming around aimlessly can quickly deteriorate into violent criminal activity. Store owners will not report demands for protection money, and neighbors will not complain about the presence of dangerous characters to police if they feel criminals are in control of their neighborhoods.
The government should invest in poor areas, construct youth centers, and send a clear message to alienated communities telling them that they matter, and that they are not alone.
The creation of city police departments mentioned by Netanyahu will go some way to restoring the presence of the state in abandoned neighborhoods, but police cannot ensure that youths have positive influences in their lives. Only a determined policy by the government to invest in crime-afflicted urban centers can achieve that.
There are several points in Netanyahu's plan which are commendable. The expansion of the successful City Without Violence program to over 50 cities from the current 12 will undoubtedly help in the war on crime.
The program is based on the vital understanding that law enforcement is only one part of the solution, and that local governments, schools, and social services must be included in the effort. Youths must be spoken to directly and educated towards non-violence.
Similarly, Netanyahu's recognition of the role of alcohol as a catalyst of street youth violence is commendable. Placing curbs on alcohol sales is a welcome measure, though determined youths will always find a way to obtain alcohol and sidestep restrictions, such as buying drinks during the day and storing them at home.
And keeping violent offenders in prison for longer, as Netanyahu has said he intends to do, will certainly give the public the feeling that the justice system is functioning, and that the scales of justice are tipped towards the victims of crime, rather than towards the perpetrators.