Are Israel's police officers safe?

Three attacks on cops recorded in 48 hours.

Israel Police Chief Insp.-Gen. David Cohen revealed Monday that some 40 police officers are currently under protection due to threats against them and their families, but the picture painted by current and former police alike described an environment in which the security of cops walking their beat was an open question. The issue of police security grabbed public awareness last week following the announcement that what Justice Ministry investigators described as "desperate" police resorted to illegal activities to target criminals who had targeted them. But in the past 48 hours alone, despite promises by officers in the National Headquarters that the issue was a top priority, three serious attacks against police officers were noted nationwide. In Jaffa shortly before noon Monday, patrol on patrol stopped two suspicious men for a search. But when police approached the two, they attacked the police officers. One of the officers was injured severely enough to require treatment at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, but the two suspects, Jaffa residents in their late thirties and early forties, were arrested. Overnight, a tragedy was averted when a burglary suspect failed in his attempt to stab a Tel Mond police commander with a screwdriver. A similar attack over a year ago against 27-year-old Sgt.-Maj. Shlomi Asulin left the police officer and father of two young daughters comatose until today. This time, however, the police officer fired a shot into the air to intimidate the suspect and his partner in crime. A 22-year-old Palestinian was arrested, but the second suspect managed to escape. On Sunday morning police discovered that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown into the yard of the Netanya police station. Two Kalansua residents, one 27 and one 30, were arrested shortly later under suspicion that they were involved in the attack, but during questioning they denied all of the charges. Lt.-Cmdr. (ret.) Dubi Yung said such events are all too common. According to research initially carried out in 2000, and then updated in 2003, 88.2% of operational police officers have encountered violent attacks while in the line of duty. Over 400 are injured every year as a result of criminal attacks. But if the arrest of many of the suspects in recent attacks seems to prove that the system protects the cops, Yung said that it did anything but that. His data indicated that 74% of criminal files against suspects for attacking police are closed before trial due to "lack of public interest." Almost half of the cases in which the attack is deemed "serious" either due to the number of attackers or the use of firearms are closed for the same reason. Yung, formerly chief of staff of the police's special units and today a specialist consultant in the field of anti-terror and crowd control, said that there are solutions to the problem, but that protecting the police officers at risk is not necessarily the best one. "I am against the defensive standpoint. We shouldn't assign a guard on the police, but rather go after the attackers and their families. We should search them, issue restraining orders and even use restrictive detention to prevent them from attacking," Yung said. According to Yung, then-police chief Shlomo Aronishky "was not particularly interested" in the report's recommendations, despite the fact that the top cop held a discussion on the findings. He said that there were steps that could be taken at the judicial level, including instating a "quick trial" format similar to the one used for drunk drivers to bring police attackers to justice more speedily. Similarly, he recommended that prosecutors not be allowed to close cases involving attacks on police officers without offering a written explanation as to why the case was "not in the public interest." Within the police, Yung said, commanders must be instructed to offer stronger backup to their subordinates who are confronted with violence and threats. In addition, police should be taught self-defense, to allow them to subdue attackers more effectively. "Police in Israel are afraid of using force against attackers," said Yung. "And they must become tougher to return the concept of deterrence."