Following the destructive assault by vandals on the UNESCO-recognized Avdat national archeological site in the Negev, Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov called on Wednesday for the establishment of a nationwide tourism police force, but he and others may be surprised to learn that on paper at least, tourist police departments exist.
The trouble is that they can only be found in a few cities - in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya and a handful of other locations. Even there, the tourist police is limited in scope at best, according to Marc Kahlberg, a former police officer and a pioneer in Israeli tourism policing.
During the height of the suicide bombing campaign that ravaged Netanya in the early part of the decade, the South African-born Kahlberg set up a tourist police force in Netanya from scratch, cutting down terrorism significantly and reducing crime in the city's hotel district by approximately 65 percent.
Other cities, like Eilat, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon, followed suit. Today, however, Kahlberg says the tourist police has deteriorated to the point that it has become more of an idea than a real policing force.
"It was a great success for a year. We stopped terrorism for 12 months. Our officers got to know the hotel scene and could distinguish tourists from suspects. We arrested a Swiss national caught taking photographs for an alleged terror plot," he recalled.
Yet today, what remains of the tourist police in many places "functions on one or two days a week at best. On other days, the officers are assigned to other duties," Kahlberg said.
"This is a shame because the tourist police can help solve many crimes while providing quality community policing. During my time, the officers knew the club, beach and hotel scenes," he added.
Contrasting the sorry state of affairs in Israel with Miami, where Kahlberg has provided security advice, the ex-police officer heaped praise on the Floridian tourist police.
"They cover everything from the airport to the beach. They are well-respected, dedicated, and work full time. Most know many languages. Here, the few tourist police officers probably know broken English and Hebrew."
Like many of the problems that plague the Israel Police, the heart of the matter lies in an insufficient budget, leading to manpower shortages, Kahlberg noted.
"Because of a lack of manpower, officers have been taken away from tourist police forces. It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face," he said. "I would be the first to offer my assistance to the tourism minister to help restore the tourism police."
The Israel Police declined to comment for this story.