During a conference at the Police Academy in Beit Shemesh to mark International Women’s Day last week, Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich made a comment starkly out of step with the spirit of the day.
“Anonymous letters have turned into a culture of score-settling in the police force,” Alsheich said according to a Channel 2 report.
“As such, from now on the police will not deal with anonymous letters that raise suspicions of violations by policemen. In an organization that requires reporting by policemen, there is no need for anonymous letters.”
Alsheich’s comments were disturbing on a number of levels.
First, the police commissioner was co-opting powers that do not belong to him. Already in 1992, the power to conduct criminal investigations into allegations of misbehavior by police officers was taken away from the police and given to the State Attorney’s office.
For decades Israel Police had covered up the failings of its officers. Finally, a special department was set up for investigations into alleged police misconduct that was headed by attorney Eran Shendar.
Thankfully, it is up to the State Attorney’s office – not Alsheich – whether or not to ignore anonymous complaints. Still, it is disturbing that Alsheich attempted to blur the balance of powers between Israel Police and the State Attorney’s office.
Alsheich’s demand to stop anonymous complaints also ignores a simple fact: Due to the prevailing organizational culture in Israel Police, it is almost impossible to expect a whistle-blower to expose himself or herself. Police hierarchy is built on fierce loyalty. When lower-ranked officers go outside the organization to complain about the conduct of their superiors, fellow officers perceive it as a betrayal of internal norms. Only through anonymity can there be any hope that a “stinker” will come forward.
Ideally, we would expect police officers to encourage their peers to come forward when they witness misconduct. There is no other way of battling corruption and ensuring that Israel Police remains clean. But that is utopian wishful thinking. The fact is that cops protect other cops, even when they go rotten.
Alsheich knows that the organization he heads faces major credibility problems. Israel Police is inundated with cases of corruption and sexual misconduct among its highest ranked officers. Even the appointment of Alsheich, the former deputy head of the Shin Bet, is a symptom of Israel Police’s crisis of faith.
Of 18 major-generals in Israel Police – the rank just below commissioner – a third have left or been fired under the shadow of scandal. The situation is so bad that the government had to go outside Israel Police to appoint the present commissioner.
Unsurprisingly, public trust levels in the police, determined by the Public Security Ministry, have dropped from as high as 80 percent a decade ago to 40% to 55% in recent years.
Shooting the messenger is not the answer. If anything, Alsheich should be encouraging female police officers to come forward and complain anonymously in cases of sexual harassment.
It was thanks to an anonymous complaint, for instance, that Nissan “Niso” Shaham, former commander of the Jerusalem district police, was indicted for sexual assault, sexual harassment, fraud and breach of trust, and Shaham’s case is hardly exceptional.
Former officers Hagai Dotan and Kobi Cohen were forced out of the police force after anonymous letters triggered an investigation that led to incriminating evidence.
On International Women’s Day, Alsheich should have given a speech supporting female police officers’ right to come forward – anonymously if necessary – to complain about sexual misconduct.
Instead, he reinforced an organizational culture of fierce loyalty that is dysfunctional and self-destructive, because it stifles the investigative process that can help purge Israel Police of its bad apples.