'Police must implement greater transparency, accountability to improve public perception'

American study finds Israeli public tends to view police with a critical, largely dismissive eye.

July 2, 2013 23:37
Tel Aviv police briefing press on Bar Noar investigation, June 10, 2013

Israel Police press briefing370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman )


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The Israeli public tends to view the police with a critical, largely dismissive eye, usually seeing the military and the security services in a much more positive light, according to a study by an American think tank released on Tuesday.

At the same time, the national police force must wear a number of different hats, performing roles that in the United States, for instance, are the purview of several bodies – such as the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

According to Steven Popper – senior researcher and director of the Israel Initiative at the RAND Corporation – this negative perception has been encouraged by classic Israeli police slapstick comedies like Hashoter Azoulay, and the general Israeli culture of suspicion toward authority.

On Tuesday, RAND – an American global policy research institute – released a report it had compiled, entitled “Effective Policing for 21st-Century Israel” and focusing on the central question of how the Israel Police can provide effective policing in the country today.

The report emphasizes that such policing “depends not solely on the activities or efficiency of the police, but also on the connection between the police and the community being served.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday night in Tel Aviv, Popper said that while Israelis whom RAND researchers had interviewed over the past three years had commonly expressed negative perceptions of police, the picture was not that black and white.

For one thing, the researcher said, respondents did not describe police as corrupt when asked for their opinions of the force, and also said they believed that police had been successful in fighting different forms of crime in the country.

That said, the issue of professionalism came up again and again, including among police themselves, according to Popper.

This view comes through in the report, which states that “the perception persists that the police do not always appear to behave in a professional way and do not adequately provide safety and security.”

The report adds that people don’t feel police have a “customer service” approach to dealing with the public, and that officers have biases toward certain sections of the population.

The overarching recommendation of the report – which the Public Security and Finance ministries commissioned in conjunction with the Israel Police during the tenure of previous police chief David Cohen – is that the police adopt what is known as a procedural justice model, which involves increasing transparency and accountability for their performance.

The report also found that like elsewhere, even when Israelis receive a ticket from an officer, when the interaction is fair, people are more likely to have a positive assessment of the officer’s performance.

A positive public perception could be boosted by the use of fair and just procedures that do not change according to citizens’ race or ethnic background, as well as by a demonstration of public accountability and a sense of fairness in the way police deal with themselves, the report states. It also calls on police to shift from a policy of crime deterrence to a more data-driven and community- oriented strategy of focused deterrence.

The report drew many of its findings from 28 focus groups that took place in Israel, as well as interviews with “opinion leaders” across the country and an analysis of Israeli media coverage of police. It also analyzed videotaped interactions between police and civilians, gathered from footage shot by officers who agreed to be deployed wearing visible cameras on their uniforms.

In their interviews, the authors of the study found that Israelis believed the police were often rude and unconcerned about everyday crime, and did not look authoritative. They said the public saw inequality as common among the police, with police viewing Arab citizens mainly as criminals and not victims of crime.

The study also found that much of the Israeli distrust of law enforcement is linked to a general disregard for authority.

While the local media is often perceived as being hostile to the police or to the state, an actual examination of the media showed that the picture was more complex.

The study found that of 6,000 articles examined, most were neutral and did not have a detectable tone. It found that overall, 12 percent of articles in the national news were positive toward police, while 18% were negative and 78% were neutral.

The stories were more often positive in the local, haredi and religious press, with 26%, 13%, and 20% of the stories appearing positive, respectively. In the Arab and Russian press, the figures greatly differed, with only 7% of the stories seen as positive toward police. The Arab press also had by far the highest percentage of stories that were negative toward police – 31% – though their percentage of neutral stories – 62% – was not much different than the national average of 70%.

The study also found that ethnicity and religious observance had an effect on the perception of police, with Israeli Arabs saying that people’s ethnicity, vehicles and behavior affected how law enforcement treated them. Whether a person was haredi or national religious played a role in their perception of police as well. However, Israeli Arabs were the only sector that expressed the belief that a citizen’s ethnicity played a role in the treatment he or she received from police.

The camera experiment showed that while police were seen as being in control in 75% of interactions, in 25% they were viewed as engaging in some sort of argument with the member of the public.

Only in 60% did they appear to be trying to solve the problem.

According to the study, the camera footage showed that “even when police are respectful, interactions frequently become argumentative and disrespectful.”

In a press release that RAND issued on Tuesday, the deputy head of the Police Planning Department, Brig.-Gen. Jacob Mevorach, said that following the recommendations of the report, police had established two working groups, examining the police’s professionalism and transparency.

“The working groups are formulating their recommendations, which are to be presented to the police commissioner in the near future,” Mevorach said.

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