Public Security: An SOS for police funding

Yitzhak Aharonovitch has issued harsh criticism of salary levels.

Aharonovitch 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
Aharonovitch 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
As negotiations between government factions intensify over the coming 2011 budget, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch seized on the debate this week to issue an urgent plea for increased police funding.
His campaign provides a revealing glimpse into the worries that grip senior law enforcement officials over what they say is the ongoing financial neglect of the police.
In statements made public on Wednesday, Aharonovitch warned that if insufficient funding continues, the police will be unable to maintain its role as the state’s immune system and carry on its fight against diseases such as corruption, demands by criminals for businesses to pay protection money, organized crime intervention in local government and fraud.
These are the kind of criminal offenses which, if left unchecked, threaten domestic stability, inhibit market growth and cast a shadow over the country’s economy, he added.
Aharonovitch hails from police ranks and has prioritized the goal of ending the struggle faced by most officers to meet their basic financial needs.
In his call for action, he has not shied away from making some of the harshest criticisms of current police salary levels heard to date from a serving public security minister.
“It is inconceivable that police officers and prison wardens will live on NIS 5,000 for many years. I have children who serve in the force, and if I didn’t give them NIS 2,000 to NIS 3,000 a month, they would have nothing to live on,” he remarked.
“With these after-tax salaries, the officers [are supposed to] pay their mortgages, send their children to kindergarten, pay back bank loans and purchase goods.”
SINCE BEING appointed public security minister in 2009, Aharonovitch has clashed repeatedly with Insp.- Gen. David Cohen. Tensions between the two almost reached the boiling point when the minister overruled Cohen’s decision to fire former Southern District police commander Uri Bar-Lev.
Yet no issue appears to unite them more than their joint goal of securing fairer conditions for police officers.
In recent months, Cohen has expressed concern over the decreasing officer-to-population ratio, which dropped from 3.39 police officers per 1,000 residents in 2000, to 3.14 per 1,000 in 2009. The ratio is seen as a reflection of the police’s ability to keep a sufficient number of officers on patrol, and respond to calls from the general public. Cohen has blamed the government’s failure to increase the police budget for the continuous drop.
The police budget stands at NIS 7.6 billion, and has remained largely static over the past decade. Seventy-five percent of the funds go to salaries, 21% for purchasing resources and 4% for development plans. No money is left over to raise the salaries of officers or increase the number of cadets, Cohen said.
The current police budget is also lower than the total cost of crime incurred by the state every year. Criminal activities cost NIS 10 billion to NIS 12 billion in 2009, according to a Public Security Ministry memo released this week.
“I see how masses of officers are leaving the police and Prisons Service,” Aharonovitch said. “Quality people are leaving after they see the numbers on their pay slip.”
According to the ministry, a starting officer will earn a mere NIS 4,148 a month, and cannot hope to pass the NIS 5,000 mark until he or she rises through five ranks to become a first-sergeant. The process takes around five years to complete, and for many officers, the journey up the chain of command will end here.
A smaller number of officers will then be promoted to the rank of deputy-inspector, ensuring them a salary of NIS 8,571. Only a select few will go on to become assistant-commanders, deputy-commanders, lieutenant- commanders, and finally commanders. The salaries of these high-ranking officers range from NIS 21,000 to NIS 41,000.
Without a change in policy, the Israel Police will find it increasingly difficult to maintain its current level of crime fighting in 2011, Aharonovitch warned.
The coming weeks will reveal whether Aharonovitch has succeed in his goal of forcing the Finance Ministry and the government to take note of his dire warnings.