By YAAKOV LAPPIN
A delegation of newly appointed Israel Police Lieutenant Commanders returned from a visit to Northern Ireland and London this week, during which officers compared notes and learned about police practices and challenges in the United Kingdom.
The delegation was headed by Cmdr. Amihai Shai, head of a newly established course designed to grant officers promoted to the rank of Lt.-Cmdr - the third highest rank in the force - the skills to manage the police.
"We went to see how another country manages to operate under similar circumstances, to see how what we are doing could be improved upon. This was about benchmarking," Shai said.
In Northern Ireland, the Israeli delegation was impressed by community policing techniques being employed by the PSNI, Shai said.
"We saw how the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recruits 50 percent Catholics and 50% Protestants. We were limited to Belfast in Northern Ireland," he added. But the picture wasn't all rosy, Shai said.
"We saw that despite the progress, the separation wall still exists, and we saw impoverishment in some of the Catholic areas," he added.
Some of the terrorism problems faced by the PSNI were familiar to members of the Israel Police delegation. The PSNI's officers are occasionally targeted by terrorists, and an officer was shot dead by a masked gunman in March, in an attack blamed on radical Republican elements that have refused to accept the Good Friday peace agreement.
In London, the delegation witnessed strenuous efforts to recruit officers into the Metropolitan Police from ethnic minorities. "In Israel, we are undertaking the same efforts - 12 % of officers must be members of a minority group," said Shai.
"We recruit from across the board - from minorities of groups with other religions, like Muslim and Christian Arabs, to [ethnic] minorities who are Jews, like Russians and Ethiopians," Shai added.
"Minorities must be recruited so that the police is not exclusively representative of the majority," Shai said.
In London, the delegation observed "a lot of community policing," Shai said, as well as attempts to build bridges between UK Muslims and the police.
But full blown community policing was reserved for forces fortunate enough to have large budgets, Shai stressed.
In London, the Metropolitan Police has a yearly budget of 7.5 billion pounds, while the Israel Police receives an annual budget of NIS 7.5 billion.
"In Northern Ireland and England, an officer makes more than the average salary. And they receive overtime pay. True, they don't have the threats to security we face, but if you want security from crime, you must have a higher police salary," he argued.
Starting officers in Israel make NIS 5,100 a month - a salary condemned as being far too low by both Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
"It's clear to everyone that if there would be a higher salary, there would be more officers to safeguard them," Shai said.
"In the end, a force which gives to the community causes the economy to flourish," he added.
Some 28,000 Israel Police officers are currently employed in Israel, but only 18,000 of those are civilian police, with the remainder belonging to the Border Police. With a population nearing 7.5 million residents, Israel's police officer to resident ratio is lower than London, which has over 31,000 officers covering 7,700,000 inhabitants.
To make up for the lack of resources, police in Israel have employed creative tactics, like the use of police volunteers, which Shai said was "a form of community policing, since these volunteers then go home and spread the word about what police do. They are force multipliers." Tasking municipal inspectors with some policing functions is another step towards community policing, Shai added.
Despite - or in light - of the disadvantage in resources, Shai concluded that the Israel Police are "doing better work" when compared to other forces.
"Those who are not in the police do not understand police work. It is so complex, and takes on enormous proportions. It forces you to think hard on how to deal with problems, and to cope with a multitude of pressures, from courts, to the media, to home life," he said.
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