The uniforms and the pistol make them look like police, but they are not.
They’re members of the Tel Aviv municipal public order patrol – set up by the city this past year to deal with public disturbances, noise ordinance violations, and petty quality of life issues.
After a terror attack in the city earlier this month and as the daily attacks known as the “Knife Intifada” continue across the country, the patrol members are now receiving firearms, to be force multipliers for police facing possible “lone wolf” attackers on the streets of the city.
In a Channel 2 item earlier this week, a group of municipal officers was shown receiving handgun training at a shooting range in Kfar Saba, as part of a fast-track process to arm them and prepare them to use deadly force. For many of them, it is the first time they have ever used a pistol.
The officers join an untold number of Israelis who have applied for or received new permits for firearms since the recent wave of terror attacks began. Early on in the violence, the Public Security Ministry said they had seen a “double-digit percent” increase of citizens filing requests for permits or applying to renew preexisting ones.
SINCE THEN, calls to arm have only grown. Armed civilians can potentially save lives, and so far in this terror wave, intervention by armed civilians has had a positive impact during a number of terror attacks.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has urged those with permits to carry guns, and has been photographed carrying an assault rifle while touring the city. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has taken to wearing a pistol tucked into his belt, even though as a minister he is provided with his own highly-trained, wellarmed security detail at all times.
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The charge has been led by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who has introduced a series of steps since the knife attacks began in earnest to ease the permit process in order to get more qualified civilians armed and on the street.
This is a drastic departure from Erdan’s predecessor, Yitzhak Aharonovich, who helped finalize a series of new restrictions to limit private gun ownership and increase firearms safety, after a former security guard in Beersheba killed four people and wounded several others at a mass shooting at a local bank branch in the Negev city in 2013. The murderer – Itamar Alon – had a permit for the pistol through his former job as a security guard, a permit which was never rescinded and allowed him to legally attain and carry a firearm long after he had a job that required it.
After a single tragic and highly covered event, the spotlight was on Aharonovich and the ministry to take action, and they wasted little time doing so. A regulation that allowed people to maintain a firearm more than 10 years after receiving a permit was rescinded, as was a criterion allowing jewelry store owners to carry guns. The ministry also began to enforce a directive forcing security guards to leave firearms locked at their place of work after their shifts, a move that is owed in large part to the women’s rights group “Gun- Free Kitchen Tables” which highlighted the frequency with which women have in years past been murdered by their partners who were security guards with access to legal firearms.
Now it appears the tide has turned back in the opposite direction, and there’s no way to know how – if ever – these restrictions will again be tightened and these guns that are now out on the street will be safely locked away down the road.
AFTER THE knives are put away, what happens to these firearms? How many will eventually be stolen in burglaries or snatched from armed civilians on the street, making their way into the arms of organized crime families, petty criminals, and would-be terrorists alike? What happens with these unarmed policing units like the Tel Aviv public order patrol once things cool off? Police and other enforcement bodies don’t have a habit of disarming themselves; will they in this case? How many women could potentially be killed by their spouses with more licensed firearms on the street? According to figures from “Gun-Free Kitchen Table,” between July 2012 and July 2013, eight women were killed by partners who had licensed firearms because of security jobs. Since then, according to the group’s figures, there have been no such murders, as regulations forcing security companies to lock up guards’ gun after their shifts went into effect.
This is where gun rights advocates say that anyone who intends to kill will find the means regardless: you take away their guns, and they’ll use knives, their hands, anything that is available, the argument goes. Research has shown that that’s not quite the case, though. Crime and acts of violence are often opportunistic; the aggressor who loses his or her preferred means is less likely to commit the contemplated violent act.
The ministry said that since the current wave of violence started, they are fielding between 6,000 and 8,000 phone inquiries about firearms permits, as opposed to around 150 per day previously. Due to the skyrocketing demand and the still quite rigorous approval process, many – if not the majority – of the new applicants will only receive their firearms a month or two from now, potentially after the daily violence abates. Will they all then lock them up in safes until the violence returns? It’s not just firearms. Earlier this month the cabinet passed a bill that would allow the police to search anyone in a place deemed prone to violence if they have reason to think he or she may use a weapon, even without probable cause. The bill would mean police would only need “reasonable suspicion” that the person is about to commit a violent crime.
It’s unclear how this bill would be applied on the street, but any law legalizing searches with a lower standard of suspicion has the potential for abuse, violations of privacy, and possibly to be used as a means to search for drugs or other contraband under the cover of looking for weapons.
THESE ARE dangerous times and these are emergency measures – but emergency measures sometimes have a knack for becoming permanent after the cannons go silent.
The fear and anxiety we are experiencing today is justified and completely understandable.
Many feel helpless, targeted, and at risk, with no way of knowing where the next attack may come from or how to protect themselves and their families.
It has been years since there was this sort of public fear here, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nor should it be seen as simply a hysterical reaction fueled by the media and populist politicians.
Nonetheless, our nation seems to be lacking a confident voice that can calm the situation – a voice telling the public that we will weather this storm and there is no need to panic, that we have seen much greater desperation in the past and have always emerged victorious.
We also need someone with a vision about what happens the morning after, when a traumatized, terrified, exhausted nation starts to pick up the pieces. The writer covers crime, African migrants and security issues for The Jerusalem Post. His blog can be found at www.benjaminhartman.com
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