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The appearance of a countrywide rise in youth violence is deceiving, Asst.-Cmdr. Suzie Ben-Baruch, head of the Israel Police's youth department, said Sunday. The number of cases documented by police indicates there have actually been fewer violent crimes committed by youth so far in 2006 compared to the same period last year, she said.
Ben-Baruch's comments followed yet another weekend of violent crimes, which saw 15 revelers wounded in brawls and attacks in nightclubs and other public places. One person was left critically wounded after a shooting at the Luxor club on Tel Aviv's Rehov Ahad Ha'am.
"It only takes one weekend of violence and everyone thinks that violent youth crime is on the rise; however, our figures show it is actually decreasing," said Ben-Baruch, adding that she has been encouraged by figures that indicate a fall in the number of cases reported to the police since the start of the year.
According to official figures released by the police, the total number of youth felonies for 2005 was 37,981, a decrease of 6.1% from the year before, which saw a total of 40,456 felonies. A felony includes anything from brawls and fistfights to stabbings and more serious incidents of violence, said Ben-Baruch. The statistics do not indicate whether the perpetrators were ever prosecuted or how serious the crime.
She explained that the lower figures were a result of intensive police activity in the battle against juvenile delinquents in society. A growth in media attention has also meant that the public is more vigilant about violent crimes, she said.
"We have been carrying out an intensive war against youth violence over the past year. There has been much media attention and the clubs know if they don't deal with the problem then we will revoke their licenses," said Ben-Baruch, adding that the police have closed down more than 100 clubs in the past year because of violence on the premises.
While there has been a drop in youth crime, Ben-Baruch conceded that the seriousness of the crimes has intensified and the age of those carrying out the crimes has fallen.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter last week issued a statement regarding the problem of youth violence and of violent crimes in society in general.
He said: "The people of Israel have demanded that we address the issue of personal safety of our citizens and that is what we plan to do."
Yehuda Maman, the ministry's spokesman, said a 16-page proposal of ways to address the problem of youth violence in nightclubs has already been set in motion. Starting in July, all nightclubs catering to more than 100 patrons will be required to install security cameras in sensitive places such as at the entrance to the club and outside the bathrooms, some of which have been the scene of rapes and sexual assaults, said Maman.
Also among the suggested changes is a special course for nightclub security guards on how to spot and prevent trouble. Soon nightclubs will be required to put security personnel through the course in order to obtain an operating license.
"We have already run the first course for nightclub bouncers from clubs near Haifa and the results were very positive. After August clubs will need to pass this test to get a license," said Maman, adding that new guidelines will soon restrict the sale of alcohol after 3 a.m.
Yitzhak Levy, whose son Ra'anan was murdered outside a nightclub on Kibbutz Shefayim in December 2005, commented that the police must increase its presence in areas where there are large numbers of nightclubs.
"Now, at football matches there are police and ambulances present to prevent this kind of violence," he said. "But at places such as clubs, where there are many youngsters, there is absolutely no protection for the young people." Maman said the proposal also called for increased police patrols and civilian guards to help deal with the violence.
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