Ex-top cop turned Likud candidate outlines to 'Post' how he'd fight crime

Hefetz would like to see 10,000 new recruits join the police and says he would place them at the disposal of the mayors.

asaf hefetz likud 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
asaf hefetz likud 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Most aspiring politicians would probably think twice before setting their sights on the Ministry of Public Security today. A string of mob assassinations, internal feuding among police top figures, organizational woes, a lack of funding and resources, and continuously negative headlines have made this ministerial post as challenging as can be. But former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz is a man with a plan - a three-step plan, to be more precise - on how to revamp the much criticized police force and turn it into a 21st century crime fighting organization. More than 10 years after retiring from the police's helm, Hefetz would like to become Israel's next public security minister. He hopes his plan will secure him enough votes in the upcoming Likud primary elections to gain a high position on the party list. "With Bibi as the next prime minister, I see the possibility of placing the fight against crime as a supreme priority," he said, speaking to The Jerusalem Post in his north Tel Aviv office on Thursday. "My record is one of doing and leading. I want to make sure that the basic right of every citizen, to live securely, is realized," Hefetz said. A former Labor member, Hefetz denied "jumping on the Likud bandwagon," despite joining the party as a flood of figures have come aboard the Likud ship. "I must stress that I am in agreement with the Likud's political platform. I agree with Bibi when he says that every territory we have vacated unilaterally, from Gaza to southern Lebanon, has seen the rise of a hostile entity which directs rockets at Israeli civilians." Before becoming police commissioner in 1994, Hefetz commanded the police's elite counter-terrorism unit (Yamam). In 1978, he risked life and limb during an armed confrontation with Fatah terrorists who had landed on an Israeli beach from Lebanon and hijacked an Egged bus on the coastal highway near Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, south of Haifa. Under Hefetz's command, the Yamam unit prevented the terrorists, armed with machine guns and explosives, from driving the bus into the heart of Tel Aviv, blowing out its tires and engaging the terrorists. The attack ended tragically nonetheless; some 35 Israelis were killed as the terrorists detonated their explosions and turned the bus into a fireball. Hefetz was wounded in that incident and was awarded with the police's medal of bravery. He then went on to fill a series of roles at the police's national headquarters, and commanded the prestigious Central District's Central Unit. If appointed minister, Hefetz said his first aim would be to "restore the people's faith in the police." This can only be achieved by waging war on organized crime, busting local protection rackets and demands for 'protection money' by mobsters, and a "massive strengthening of the local police," he said. Hefetz would like to see 10,000 new recruits join the force, and says he would place them at the disposal of the mayors. "The mayor should have a hand in dealing with local crime. Around the world, this system is in place - we're one of the only countries that do not practice this method," he said. "This will bring about a change in the streets. It will have an impact on street thugs and damage the negative environment from which organized crime stems." Hefetz said he was well aware of the deterrent factor the police's low salaries (an estimated NIS 4,000 a month net) had on new recruits, and vowed to raise the wages to an "attractive" level. The second stage of his plan is to massively increase the size of police units dedicated to fighting serious crime, such as the Serious National and International Crimes Unit, which Hefetz founded, and the Lahav anti-organized crime unit, which "is doing good work," according to Hefetz. Crime organizations must be hit hard, legally and economically, Hefetz said, emphasizing an "integrative" approach in which a range of authorities are drawn together in an effort to stamp out organized crime. Hefetz acknowledged that organized crime has rubbed shoulders with some sections of local and national politics. Asked how he felt about the presence of Musa Alperon, brother of the late mob kingpin Yaakov Alperon, at the Likud's party conference last month, Hefetz said, "I believe there is no space for organized crime in the political system. At the same time, if someone has not committed a crime, you can't legally prevent them from attending. You can express an opinion and set limits." The third part of Hefetz's vision involves the drawing up of new legislation based on America's 'three strikes and your're out' laws which exist in some states. "This is very tough legislation, and it stretches the limits of individual rights. It believes less in rehabilitation," he warned. But ultimately, Hefetz said, this sort of legislation is effective. "The US has large and full jails, but this is preferable to fighting criminals who have been released to the streets," he said. Asked how he would handle the current crisis between Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Dudi Cohen and Southern District Chief Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, Hefetz strongly hinted that under his watch, outstanding commanders like Bar-Lev would not be pushed out of the force because they threatened their superiors. "A hierarchical organization must ensure that the best come up. It must not repress strong people with a spine who threaten their superiors," he said. "I myself am like this, and faced efforts to push me out," he added. "Hierarchical organizations have a tendency to go for mediocracy. I believe this phenomenon will disappear if I take up the position. I will imbue the police with the values that I support."