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A national crime-fighting network billed as Israel's FBI, video teleconferenced remand hearings, and an increase of 1,000 in the number of police officers hired - these are among the changes to Israel's law enforcement scene expected to take off in 2008.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter outlined on Tuesday these and other changes - some of which are already underway, whether as pilot programs or in the final stages of planning and organization.
Dichter prefers to call the nascent network "the crime fighting fist" rather than the FBI, but whatever the nickname, the purpose remains the same - to pool police resources to deliver a more effective response to Israel's organized crime syndicates.
The organization, whose commander Lt.-Cmdr. Yoav Segelovich will answer directly to the chief of police, combines a handful of the police's most elite investigative units that currently exist on a national level and are subordinate to Intelligence and Investigations Division chief Cmdr. Yohanan Danino.
White-collar crime fighting experts within the National Fraud Squad, the Economic Crimes Unit and the International and Serious Crimes Unit will all serve under Segelovich's unified command, together with the Etgar Unit which combats vehicle theft; the new directorate will also take to the field with the elite Gidonim Unit - currently Jerusalem District's undercover anti-terror experts.
For some time, top police brass had considered merging the unit - exceptional at a district level - with the Yamam, Israel Police's elite counter-terror unit, but the discussion was apparently put to rest once the Gidonim were fingered as the muscle behind the "fist".
Echoing concepts of anti-terror strategies, Dichter explained that it took multifaceted units to combat the multifaceted enterprise of organized crime, which does not focus on one area of operation, but rather engages in crime at many different levels and in many different fields.
In addition to the structural change, Dichter said that the police and the ministry were working to push forward legislation and technologies that would improve the level of SIGINT - "signals intelligence" - within the police. Currently, the police are reliant on the Shin Bet Security Agency to carry out even the most basic of services, such as placing traces on a single cell phone user.
"The Israel Police must build our version of 8200," Dichter said, referring to the IDF's elite intelligence unit. Police and ministry officials, he added, have recently completed the SIGINT multi-year development plan and key legislation on the subject has recently passed its first reading.
Beyond the war on organized crime, the plan for the Israel Police in 2008 calls for further steps in increasing police presence, including a proposal brought to the government to add an additional 1,000 open slots to this year's planned enlistment. The plan is currently pending approval by the prime minister and the Finance Ministry, but should it go into effect, it will put more police officers on the street in traffic, investigative and patrol positions as well as in minority communities.
Israel's current ratio of police officers to citizens is among the lowest among developed nations, and it is considered to be partially to blame for the country's crime rates.
Another change currently in pilot testing is the use of video conferencing to allow prisoners to "attend" hearings without leaving their prisons. Although opposed by many attorneys, the pilot is currently in trial phase at the Abu Kabir Detention Facility, where prisoners may choose to participate in the program rather than physically attend remand extension hearings.
According to Dichter, the program - even if the pilot is initiated nationwide - will only be utilized when prisoners agree to the remote hearing. The minister pointed out that the idea held many advantages for prisoners - including avoiding the media exposure during the "walk of shame" from the police transport to the courtroom, during which prisoners frequently attempt to hide their faces by pulling up their shirts or wearing hooded tops. In addition, prisoners are saved the day-long procedure of searches and waiting for hearing times, which often begins before dawn and ends in the evening.
The advantage to the law enforcement community would be a reduction in the extremely high number (1200) of prisoners transported on Israel's roadways every day. Each transport is considered by experts to increase the potential for prisoner escape.
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