Analysis: Police morale dips after light sentencing of Nahariya mobster

Analysis Police morale

The 11-month sentence handed down Monday to Nahariya mobster Michael Mor, who was found guilty of making dozens of threats from prison against police officers and judges, reflects poorly on Israel's judicial system and points toward a tendency to approve lenient plea bargains for heavyweight criminals. Voices in the law enforcement community have responded furiously to the sentencing, while former senior officers, who are at liberty to criticize the courts openly, have warned of a severe blow to the morale of officers who engage mob leaders. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, former northern police Cmdr. (ret.) Yaakov Borovsky said embattled police officers facing underworld kingpins might now think twice before risking their safety, unless legislation was passed in the Knesset forcing courts to hand down harsh mandatory prison sentences for serious crimes. Mor gained notoriety by terrorizing his hometown of Nahariya through violent extortion and took the war to the police by throwing grenades and planting explosives around the homes and families of officers who were investigating him. The trepidation faced by the officers, whose children were being threatened, is difficult to imagine. In 2006, a detective and four officers at the receiving end of Mor's bomb campaign felt so abandoned by their superiors that they took the law into their own hands, planting a number of explosive devices around Mor's home and vehicle. The four officers, nicknamed the "avenging cops," were convicted in July and will soon receive prison sentences. Since Mor has been in custody for nine months already, the crime boss - considered the North's most dangerous criminal - will be a free man in two months. The police must now confront fears among its own ranks that gathering evidence against criminals is a waste of time, since courts are unable to use their findings to put criminals behind bars. Police made several recordings of Mor's threats available to the prosecution, a fact that has officers even more baffled over the prosecution's decision to pursue a plea bargain. In addition, the sapping of police morale at this juncture could throw a spanner into a highly successful effort against organized crime in the past two years that has put 16 senior mob leaders behind bars. Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen tried to placate those fears on Tuesday during a visit to the Negev Subdistrict's Central Unit. "Units that are tasked with fighting hard crime will receive full backing and... resources," he said. In a direct reference to Mor, Cohen added, "Criminals will have no respite, either in or out of jail. We must keep in mind that a revolving door swings both ways." Cohen's efforts to provide support for his officers include setting up a low-key, round-the-clock police protection unit for officers whose lives have been threatened. But police can only go so far without the backing of the prosecution and judges. "I think we have a classic example of the court and prosecution believing they acted correctly, while society is harmed," Borovsky, who has provided moral support to the "avenging cops," told the Post on Tuesday. "Officers will be scared to engage criminals and will prefer to tackle crime through other means," Borovsky said. "If you have evidence of threats being made, that is a rare and incredible thing," he added. "In this case, there were recordings of threats. A plea bargain was a mistake, and its results are harmful. I can't see how 37 charges end up in two more months of prison." Mor's sentencing gave the Knesset a golden opportunity to "consider the need for mandatory prison sentences and to remove the opportunity of a plea bargain," Borovsky said. "If there is evidence, why go for a plea bargain?" Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines called upon the Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday to investigate the circumstances behind Mor's punishment. "In light of the shocking charges against Mor, the plea bargain reached with him is no longer reasonable," Paz-Pines said. "Plea bargains have become too commonplace in the Israeli legal system, and something must be done about it. The public is sick of violent organized crime, and I don't think the courts have internalized that." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.