It’s fairly axiomatic that the first hours immediately after an abduction are critical. The trail is still hot. The victims have presumably not yet been hidden and the perpetrators had not yet completed their getaway. The earlier chase is given, the greater the chances of success. It’s nothing but heartrending that what should be elementary to law-enforcement personnel evidently isn’t.Many ultra-precious hours were pointlessly wasted after the three teens headed home from school were reported missing Thursday night. Police were first alerted at exactly 10:22 p.m. by a caller from the Hebron area, who turned out to be one of the missing boys, and who said “I was kiddnapped.” Then Gil-Ad Shaer’s friend called the Modi’in police, the Yifrach family the Rosh Ha’ayin station and the Fraenkel family turned to the Ramle precinct. Gil-Ad’s father turned up in person.Apparently the only follow-up action was dispatching a squad car to the Alon Shvut junction where the boys were last seen. The military wasn’t alerted till after 5 a.m.All this by no means suggests that the cops are the villains of this piece, just as the hitchhiking habit isn’t. The foregoing failures to take action are at most risk-augmenters and rescue-delayers, but the villains are solely and incontrovertibly the terrorist blood-lusting stalkers on our highways. Moreover, this isn’t to say that the outcome would have necessarily been very different were the alarm sounded earlier. But it might have been – and that doubt should collectively deprive us of peace of mind.Had this been an isolated case of police lassitude, it would have been bad enough. But this isn’t so.In early 2006, police warned the public to exercise extreme vigilance due to a spate of carjackings and attempted kidnappings – especially in the Sharon and Dan regions, well inside the Green Line. At the time, all known suspects or apprehended perpetrators hailed from the Nablus area.Presumably, the police’s own procedures should have been adjusted to the grave dangers of which ordinary Israelis were apprised. If drivers were to change their routines, it was only to be expected that so should have the police – ostensibly more mindful of the severity of the situation.But the case of 21-year-old Inbal Amram sadly proved otherwise. In the wee hours of March 4, 2006, Inbal left her family’s Petah Tikva home to collect her younger sister from a party. She never arrived and didn’t answer her mobile. The parents sought help at the nearest police station. The three officers present wouldn’t even take down the frantic father’s report or any of the missing girl’s details. In fact, they mockingly shouted him down, treated him abusively and eventually ejected him altogether from the station.Incredibly late, Inbal’s abandoned car was found in a derelict Ramat Aviv lot. She was inside, her throat slashed and barely alive. The paramedics were unable to save her by that point.Several years later, her murderer – Mohammad Ja’adi – was convicted. Petah Tikva District Court President Hila Gerstel’s 39-page landmark verdict emphasized that Inbal’s untimely death could have been prevented by prompt police response. The police halfheartedly admitted that its officers didn’t take Inbal’s disappearance seriously.Three policemen subsequently received formal reprimands, but the insufficient rap on the knuckles was all the top command could muster. All the officers involved were afterward promoted.Perhaps what went wrong then is what went wrong in the current case of the three boys. Judge Gerstel’s document constitutes unprecedented denunciation of police recklessness and gross lack of professionalism, common decency and elementary sensitivity.This wasn’t and isn’t a matter of money or material resources. The police’s image and capacity to regain a modicum of respect won’t improve until strict discipline is imposed and a new set of values is inculcated throughout the force.The citizenry must be convinced that no officer will again resort to shifty excuses and that life-and-death decisions will be removed from the hands of desk-staffers.They must be obliged to pass on all suspicions of serious crime. Better to err on the side of caution than rely on one individual’s arbitrary whims or hunches.