'City Without Violence program works'

Participating cities praise the project while statistics show fall in crime rates around the country.

yitzhak aharonovitch 248 88 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
yitzhak aharonovitch 248 88
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
The spate of recent murders notwithstanding, an ambitious new model aimed at rooting out violence is quietly gaining steam in Israeli cities. The City Without Violence (CWV) program was touted by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch this week as an important pillar in the war against violent crime. Twelve cities currently implement the program as a pilot scheme, and several representatives from local authorities told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that CWV was making a difference. CWV is based on the concept that violence is best tackled by creating a partnership of government, local authorities, the police, and social services and getting them to work in concert. It employs a variety of means, from closed-circuit TV cameras that are installed in downtown areas and feed 24-hour control rooms with images, to an intensive education program aimed at gearing youths towards non-violence, and providing teenagers with positive activities to keep them off the streets. Mayor Yoel Lavi of Ramle, where on August 5 an innocent yeshiva student was killed by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting, said that the tragic slaying aside, CWV was having an impact. "This program is excellent," he said. "We are seeing changes in behavior, as the program deals with stressing the importance of human dignity, tolerance, and coexistence. It promotes the avoidance of violence among youths, and educates on drug and alcohol abuse." According to CWV data, Ramle has experienced a 40 percent drop in violent incidents from 2007 to 2008. "This summer we have organized a soccer league involving all our neighborhoods, Arabs and Jews," Lavi said. Under CWV's guidance, Ramle has increased the number of joint patrols made up of a police officer and a municipal inspector, while an increase in CCTV cameras has "had a deterrent effect," Lavi added. He warned, however, that Israeli cities will continue to see innocent civilians caught up in crime wars as long as "the police continues to have its hands tied," adding that the High Court of Justice and legal system have gone too far in granting criminals rights at the expense of law enforcement and public safety. "A police officer is now too scared of being the subject of a complaint, and of having to raise money for a lawyer and losing his standing," he said. "We'll continue to live under the shadow of criminals until this changes." A source in the Hadera Municipality told the Post that CWV had contributed to a 46% drop in crime in the city this year. "Hadera has become in recent years one of the safest cities in the world," he said. "We feel it everywhere, and CWV is a part of that." The source added an initiative by Hadera Mayor Haim Avital to create a municipal security service, made up of 20 former IDF combat veterans in patrol cars, has also contributed to reducing crime. Ashkelon began implementing CWV six months ago, and Mayor Benny Vaknin said positive results are already evident. "We have installed cameras in every school, and we have seen that violence has dropped. Pupils are calmer and better behaved in the playgrounds," he said. "We set up a center with psychologists and sociologists to help avoid violence, and there are educational programs from kindergartens to high schools, too," Vaknin added. A source from the Tiberias Municipality had similar praise for the scheme. "I can say wholeheartedly that this program has been an enormous help. A year ago we had acts of serious violence on our promenade. We installed video cameras, which helped police progress in investigations and make arrests. The cameras also prevent vandalism," she said. "We see it as a very important program that improves the atmosphere and promotes tolerance and non-violence among youths," she added. "We're happy to participate." In Bat Yam, a 55% decrease in violence in schools was recorded between 2006 and 2008. CWV costs NIS 20 million a year to run. The government covers 47% of the cost, while the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, pays for 38%. Local authorities pick up the remaining 15%. CWV appears to have also inspired residents' confidence in their municipal phone hot lines, with a spike in such calls being made in cities that participate in the program. In 2006, 28,227 calls were placed to municipal hot lines, while in 2008, 58,073 calls were made.