Police chief: Without lockdown enforcement, coronavirus won't go away

There has been controversy following media reports that police have been selectively enforcing the regulations.

Brig.-Gen. Sigal Bar-Tzvi. (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Brig.-Gen. Sigal Bar-Tzvi.
Brig.-Gen. Sigal Bar-Tzvi, head commander of the policing department of the Israel Police, said in an interview on Tuesday that she was beginning to “see light at the end of the tunnel,” in view of reports that the rate of infection has slowed somewhat since the beginning of the second lockdown on September 18. But she immediately qualified this statement, saying that the virus had been “unpredictable” and that there was no way to know for sure what would happen next.
As the coronavirus cabinet debated changes to existing regulations Tuesday, she said the police were keeping abreast of all the changes and so they could continue enforcement.
“After the holiday, in spite of the fact that the education system is still closed down, there is a fear that certain sectors will open schools again, and so we’re on the alert for that,” she said. She also said that given that the ban on venturing more than one kilometer from home is expected to be lifted shortly, that means that, “there will be a return to mass demonstrations and we will need to be prepared for that.”
Police enforcement of the coronavirus restrictions during the second lockdown has come under a great deal of criticism, with a video released of police arresting a young woman at the beach – although the police video of the incident released later showed that this woman refused to identify herself and did not cooperate – and Bar-Tzvi is well aware of this.
“It’s important to say that most people do obey the rules and because of that we have reached this achievement,” of the beginning of a declining rate of infection, she said. “We are in a period in which the majority of the public understands the need for the regulations and they have internalized the need for masks, social distancing and not holding large gatherings,” the three main points of the plan to fight the virus that the police are tasked with enforcing.
“They have to realize that without enforcement, we won’t get to achievements in stopping the spread of the virus.”
There has been controversy following media reports that police have been selectively enforcing the regulations, for example, that 91 tickets were issued in Tel Aviv for holding prayer services during the holidays in ways that violate regulations and only one in Jerusalem, which defies common sense since the religious population in Jerusalem is so much larger.
Asked about the public perception that the police are not serious about enforcement in the ultra-Orthodox sector, she said, “The ultra-Orthodox have the opposite impression,” and feel that there is much stricter enforcement in their community than in the secular sector. “Everyone concentrates on their own sector... We are not political, we have to enforce the rules everywhere.”
While there have been press reports of police attempting to cut deals with extremist haredim to allow them to hold mass prayers if the prayers are not filmed or recorded, she said that, “That is not our policy.” She did acknowledge that there have been some attempts to negotiate the details of enforcement “with extreme factions.”
She said that the number of tickets issued in red areas – areas designated as having high rates of the virus according to the “traffic-light” plan devised by the coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu – may have been relatively low in this current lockdown, but that was because, “In the red areas people are taking it seriously.”
One of the most difficult tasks facing the police force during the lockdown is locating people who have the virus or have been exposed to it and have fled quarantine, she said. Three-hundred and ninety-eight police officers have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, while 1,620 officers – out of 29,000 in total – are in isolation after having been exposed to the virus. “We try very hard to protect the police from becoming infected,” she said, adding that medical teams advise the police closely.
She was surprised at how serious the second wave has turned out to be and said, “People have to know we can’t get to achievements in bringing down the rate of infection without enforcement. People need to take responsibility for following regulations, not only out of fear of police, out of fear of getting caught, but because it’s what they need to do... The virus is everyone’s enemy.”