Think before shooting

Above all, the municipal security patrol initiative is indicative of the Israel Police’s inability to contend with the crime wave and the government’s shirking of its duty to enforce the law.

Handgun (illustrative) 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Handgun (illustrative) 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Many consider the establishment of local patrol units a good solution to the recent crime wave, since such patrols will provide more eyes on the ground and more tools to deal with the problem. But before we hurry to fill the streets with uniformed patrols, we should stop and consider whether such good intentions won’t actually bring us more incidents of violence.
Why? Because in order to establish local patrol units, municipalities will employ city inspectors and private security guards, and grant them the authority of police officers. Have we forgotten how much power a police officer wields? They can stop us, question us, arrest us, handcuff us, and even use weapons.
Now, imagine this power in the hands of city inspectors and private security guards who don’t pass through police screening processes and training, including weapons training and in depth studies of the law they are hired to enforce. Also absent in the proposed plan are the parallel oversight mechanisms through which complaints about excesses of authority can be lodged.
Despite these deficiencies, various local authorities, led by Tel Aviv, have announced the establishment of “City Security Patrols” – municipal militias of civil inspectors and private security guards whose objective is to maintain order. The law allows this, but does not define the authority of such officers – which means that every local municipality will do as it pleases (as may these security patrols themselves).
Who will ensure the local patrols remain within their legal authority and refrain from arresting us just because we look suspicious to them? After all, once they have the power – and lack the training, checks and sanctions of a centralized system – it will fast become a slippery slope.
ANOTHER CONSEQUENCE of this process will be a lack of national uniformity in the nature and quality of police protection, influenced by regional differences in budgets and circumstances.
This constitutes a serious problem because we are all supposed to enjoy the same personal security throughout Israel; it is unacceptable that some places will be safer than others.
Obviously many local municipalities will not be able to fund this luxury and their residents will remain exposed to dangerous crime while more prosperous cities amply develop their militias. Additionally, the local militias will be vulnerable to local political pressures and risk being used as tools to disrupt political opposition or suppress those outside the fold.
Above all, the municipal security patrol initiative is indicative of the Israel Police’s inability to contend with the crime wave and the government’s shirking of its duty to enforce the law. Up until now it was clear that the police was the exclusive agency responsible for public order, personal security and the protection of property.
Due to the police’s decreasing ability to adequately prevent and respond to crime, the Knesset decided last year to undertake a pilot program to establish municipal police divisions (in cooperation with the national police) in 13 municipalities. Until the success of the pilot can be examined, there is no reason to rush into an ad hoc implementation.
The Israel Police is clearly in need of reinforcements – its leadership continues to claim a shortage of officers. These should be provided, along with additional squad cars in the city stations.
Additionally, we must seriously consider again raising the salaries of police officers as they are still too low and are likely to bring about avoidance of responsibility and lack of efficiency in the performance of duty.
Personal security and a non-violent environment are our rights as human beings and citizens. But if in our rush to counter the problem we employ untested and unregulated forces, it will be just a matter of time before we read about an outrageous incident in which an innocent young person is wrongly beaten by overzealous municipal patrolmen.
The writer, an attorney, is the director of the Social and Economic Rights Department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).