Police: Crime down 50% in South since 2004

Under the shadow of increasingly intense rocket fire, the police's Southern District hailed a 50-percent reduction in overall crime in the South over the past three years, a police conference in Ashkelon was told on Wednesday. According to figures released by the police, 61,920 crimes were recorded in the South in 2007, a dramatic decrease from the 76,934 offenses committed in 2004. In light of the decline, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented the district with an award earlier in the week for its contribution to the country's security. "Our district stretches from Eilat to Ashdod," Southern District Police chief Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev told The Jerusalem Post. "That's two-thirds of Israel's territory. Our accomplishments here are unprecedented - we've brought about the lowest crime rate in Israel, and one of the lowest rates in the world," he said, vowing to "continue this into 2008." Asked if the increasing number of rockets being fired at the area would stretch police resources, Bar-Lev conceded that "we don't have enough personnel to cope with both rockets and crime. We have priorities, and saving lives is our first one. But we do have the drive and solidarity that will make up for our lack of numbers." "When officers from Beersheba and Eilat give up their vacation time to come and support their colleagues in Sderot and Ashkelon, I think that shows what we're capable of," he said. Unlike with criminal acts, the police could only deal with the consequences, not the cause, of rocket attacks, Bar-Lev stressed. "It's not only rockets - the past two suicide bombings, in Dimona and Eilat, have been in our district, and we will have to continue to face security challenges," he said. When it comes to prosecuting criminals, the Southern District has managed to get almost every other detainee to court - just under 40% - he added. In the past year, the South has experienced a 9% drop in car thefts, police said, while car break-ins have gone down by 22%. Home burglaries have decreased by 15.5%, and violent crimes have dropped by 12%, according to police stats. "Part of our strategy involves dividing the south into 54 hot spots," Bar-Lev said. "We've also adopted a culture of service for civilians. In the case of break-ins, for example, we ask courts to order criminals to pay the value of the damages to the victims," he said.