Analysis: Jeopardizing public faith in the police

Scandals are “embarrassing and difficult," says Danino, "but we must look forward and see what effect these incidents will have on the organization and its values in the long term.”

Yohanan Danino (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yohanan Danino
One could hear the sadness in Police Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino’s words Monday, as yet another investigation against a top police commander dominated the Israeli news cycle.
“We must remember that the police are necessary for the protection of the citizens of the country,” Danino said, adding “I want to say to the people of Israel, you have a police force you can trust despite these recent events.”
The head of a domestic security service that has become so tainted by scandal that its ability to function has been brought into question, sounded almost like a spouse trying to convince his partner not to walk out the door. There is good reason for Danino to be concerned.
In a little over a year, the Israeli public has seen a half dozen assistant-chiefs resign or be fired – at least half of them for sexual misconduct issues. Some of these cases are extremely troubling, like former Jerusalem police chief Niso Shaham who, in October 2013, was fired after he was indicted for sexually harassing and assaulting several female officers, including some who came to him for help due to economic distress.
Perhaps even more troubling, at his disciplinary hearing Shaham said that such sexual relations between officers and their subordinates are common – a sort of “everybody does it” defense. Though it’s certainly not the case that every police officer is a sex offender, in the eyes of the public, the image isn’t that much better in light of recent events.
The rank of assistant-chief (nitzav in Hebrew) is the highest rank below inspector-general.
District commanders and branch commanders hold the rank of nitzav, the police equivalent of a general in the army.
One can only imagine the media storm and public distress that would ensue if over the course of a year six generals, each the head of a separate IDF command, were forced to hang up their uniforms. If half of these dismissals were for sexual misconduct with young female soldiers, the outrage would, and should, be immense.
This is the current state of affairs with the Israel Police, and it’s definitely cause for concern.
Danino said Monday the force is in need of a “root canal.” A good place to start could be to appoint a female nitzav somewhere in the force.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made comments to this effect Tuesday, saying, “It could be the right thing to do, and possibly the time has come, to appoint down the road a female chief of police.”
There are plenty of talented female officers and appointing one to the rank of nitzav or even higher could help improve the image of the police, which at least on the upper command level gives the impression of an old boys club, whose members receive sexual favors from female subordinates who have reason not to feel safe.
This image does a great disservice to the more than 30,000 police officers, the vast majority of whom work night and day, often risking their lives, to protect the security of Israel’s citizens.
The female officers among them especially do not deserve to work for an agency that is perceived as not being a safe place for women.
The number of sexual misconduct cases that have so far come to the surface is at least partly due to the greater public sensitivity to the issue, particularly following the jailing of a former president for sex crimes. The message is finally being received that such conduct is not to be tolerated, and that women who complain will be heard.
As the public image of the police continues to nosedive amid these sex scandals, one can expect that they and the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department will only become more vigilant following up complaints of wrongdoing.
There are nine principles of policing credited to UK home secretary and later prime minister Sir Robert Peel when he established the London police force in 1829. One of these states that “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”
The ability of the Israel Police to perform their duties and provide security for the Israeli public is dependent upon the faith of the public, who must see them as an agency to be proud of. These scandals, to put it lightly, aren’t helping.
Danino said Monday that the scandals are “embarrassing and difficult, but we must look forward and see what effect these incidents will have on the organization and its values in the long term.”
Time will tell what effect these scandals have on the police, but if the resignations and dismissals lead to a police force that the public can be proud of, then they will not have been in vain.