In an era of lean-and-mean government, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter pledged Monday to expand the Israel Police, characterizing the current force size as "too small for the country."
While outlining what he defined as his policy guidelines at a press conference, the former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head emphasized the need to increase public security, saying that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had described it as "a goal of utmost importance" during a meeting between the two Sunday.
"The goal of putting the citizen at the center of the police force is a battle in which we will not offer any compromises," Dichter said, promising to work to improve both actual personal security and the public's perception of their own security.
To that end, he outlined a number of steps that he believed necessary in the near and long-term future in order to achieve his goal. In the short term, Dichter said, a force of more than 1,000 combat-qualified police officers will be reassigned or temporarily redistributed, or given additional roles in urban and rural areas in which police were struggling to maintain public order. Areas with high crime rates will be assigned to elite combat-trained police.
But alongside the expansion of the police force, Dichter also pushed for a streamlining of roles currently held by police that were not necessary, in his view. By the end of 2007, Dichter promised, all civilian jails and prisons - and, consequently all civilian prisoners - will be turned over to the auspices of the Prisons Service, rather than the police.
In the interest of greater administrative accountability, Dichter said, the police would be requested to regulate their terms of service, imposing specific time limits on holding positions, including that of the inspector-general himself. Dichter said that both the Shin Bet and the IDF have similar term limits placed on their commanders, but that currently the police and the Mossad have no such restriction.
"Any attack on or injury to a police officer or prison warden will be addressed to the full extent of the law," Dichter said in an allusion to recent assaults on police officers in both Hebron and Tel Aviv, in which police officers were wounded by rocks thrown at them. In both cases, arrests were made immediately following the incidents.
Dichter also emphasized the need for security checks within the police force, saying that "it is not logical that in the Israel Police there is a different policy than in other similar organizations with which I am familiar." The question of security checks upon assuming sensitive positions within the police force rose to the forefront in recent weeks, following revelations made during the hearings of the Zeiler Commission. One of the main concerns aired during commission hearings was that the security checks in place had failed to identify any conflict of interest when a police officer with alleged ties to a crime syndicate was placed in charge of sensitive investigations related to that syndicate.