Ex-investigator: Police falling apart

The ability of the police to fight crime has deteriorated badly, former police investigator Meir Gilboa warned on Monday, saying that the caliber of the force and its motivation to catch serious criminals was low. Gilboa appeared on a panel of current and retired senior law enforcement officials taking part in the first day of the first Jerusalem Conference on Quality Government, sponsored by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. Other speakers were Cmdr. Yohanan Danino, head of police operations; former Prisons Service commissioner Orit Adato; former Jerusalem district attorney Moshe Lador; former public defender Kenneth Mann; Judge Edna Bekenstein, president of Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court; and Tel Aviv University law professor Ze'ev Segal. Gilboa, who served in the police force for 35 years and headed the criminal investigation of former interior minister Aryeh Deri, charged that police intelligence "has been a total failure, both in the strategic and the tactical spheres." He also charged that the intelligence department had failed to identify the advent of organized crime originating from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s or the rise of local organized crime. Police intelligence "doesn't have a clue about the links between the business and political sectors," he said. Gilboa dismissed claims made earlier by Danino that the police force was understaffed and that it had to take part in the fight against terrorism in addition to the classic police responsibilities. "All the research shows that there is no relationship between the level of crime and the ratio of police to the general population," said Gilboa, who added that since the 9/11 attacks, police forces in other countries were also forced to deal with terrorist threats. Earlier in the discussion, Danino had presented an upbeat picture of the law enforcement situation. He quoted from a speech to the Knesset made in 1976 by then-justice minister Shmuel Tamir, who complained about the state of crime 30 years ago in words similar to those used today. But Danino also pointed out that in 1976, there were 340,000 robberies, compared with 3,400,000 today. In 1976 there were 14,000 policemen, compared with 21,000 today, and the population doubled over the same period, he said. Danino added that the fight against crime had to be dealt with comprehensively. It was not enough for the police to press the government for more policemen, when there continued to be a shortage of prosecutors, judges and courts. Danino was visibly angered by Gilboa's charges and retorted that they were an indication of how much time had passed since Gilboa had left the force. He said many of Gilboa's facts were incorrect. Mann said that unlike criminal acts involving violence, white collar crimes were difficult to prosecute since there were no witnesses, no weapons, no corpses and no crime scenes. Instead, investigators have to pore through reams of documents to search for incriminating evidence. Also, nowadays much of that evidence may be abroad, for example, in foreign banks. Finally, it is hard for the state to win a conviction since the evidence gathered must create a certainty beyond reasonable doubt that the suspect is guilty. Therefore, Mann continued, Israel should look to other countries for alternative ways of dealing with white collar crimes and corruption. For example, he said, there should be regulatory bodies in different spheres of activity that are empowered to apply sanctions, such as fines or dismissals. Mann added that in other countries, regulatory bodies imposed fines that were so heavy that the suspect often preferred to go to jail. Mann urged the Knesset to pass a law enabling groups of citizens to file class action suits against the government. He complained that recently the Knesset had done the very opposite, by passing a law that virtually granted the government immunity from such actions. Mann referenced a practice used in other countries whereby a person who has first-hand information about a public servant who is involved in corruption may sue the suspect on behalf of the state. In this case, the plaintiff collects the fine.