State foot-dragging on erasing criminal records problematic

In June 2021, 830,000 individuals had criminal records in the police database.

 An Israel Police forensic investigator is seen at the scene of the crime in Beit Shemesh on October 30, 2021 (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
An Israel Police forensic investigator is seen at the scene of the crime in Beit Shemesh on October 30, 2021
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

The state is dragging its feet in a problematic way regarding the erasure of criminal records, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said on Tuesday.

According to an annual report, in June 2021, 830,000 individuals had criminal records in the police database.

450,000 of them, or about 54%, had one criminal case listed for them, while 166,000 of them had one closed criminal case dating back 11 years or more.

The comptroller cautioned that many state bodies have access to the criminal record list and that the police and the prosecution must be far more careful about removing criminal records for cases that are closed, especially older cases.

Englman was especially bothered by the fact that the prosecution and the police have not followed a major 2018 move by the country’s chief state attorney to reduce the number of criminal records in the system by framing the closing of a case on the basis of “being groundless” versus closing a case on the basis of “lack of evidence.”

 Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai in the crime-ridden city of Rahat in April 24, 2022 (credit: ISRAEL POLICE) Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai in the crime-ridden city of Rahat in April 24, 2022 (credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

Englman found that despite the move to reduce the number of cases closed for lack of evidence, that still 59% of cases are closed on these grounds – which he said was similar to the percentage of cases closed on these grounds prior to the reform.

In addition, the report found that there were significant distinctions between different regional prosecutors’ offices regarding which grounds they used for closing cases.

For example, in the northern district, 33% of cases were closed because of lack of evidence, while in the Haifa District, 15% of cases were closed for lack of evidence.

The report also criticized the fact that there were 21,000 cases listed for criminal records in which the person who filed the complaint was not even questioned by the police, let alone any suspect.

Moreover, the report found that a significant number of lawyers and police as well as people involved in the cases did not know the proper procedure for seeking to remove their criminal record when the case against them was closed.

Next, the report found that between 30-40% of suspects are not even notified when the cases against them are closed.

In the report, Englman found additional deficiencies in the police’s handling of plea bargains and requests from suspects to change the basis for closing their case, which could impact whether they continue to have a criminal record.