Aharonovitch prepares to face down top brass over city police plans

Public security minister hints at local forces under mayors' jurisdiction.

mounted police bat yam  (photo credit: Yuval Erel, Tel Aviv Police)
mounted police bat yam
(photo credit: Yuval Erel, Tel Aviv Police)
The opening shots of a battle over the future of the Israel Police were fired on Monday when Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch indicated that he would move to create local city police forces that would operate under mayoral jurisdiction. "He's in favor of the general idea of reform," a source close to the public security minister told The Jerusalem Post. "Aharonovitch has been planning this for a while. [Finance Minister Yuval] Steinitz will fund the proposal." The comments came after Steinitz put forward a plan to stimulate local economies by allocating money to municipalities for establishing city police forces. Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin told the Post that he was fully behind the idea and proposed that his city serve as a test case for a pilot program. Vaknin has been lobbying the government for years for the creation of city police forces. "My belief is that the resident lies at the center of services, be they municipal or police. Our job is to give residents the best quality of life. I can invest in roads and hygiene in a certain neighborhood, but if there is high crime there, where does that leave the qualify of life?" Vaknin said. Vaknin, who has served three previous terms as Ashkelon mayor, said he had seen from his 15 years of experience that police suffered from a lack of resources. "I could allocate 200 municipal workers from educational or welfare departments to have them qualified as police. For me, crime is no less of a priority than other sectors," Vaknin said. Vaknin added that current efforts at community policing, which were based on joint patrols of police and municipal inspectors, were insufficient in dealing with or deterring crime. "All enlightened Western nations, such as France and the US, have long understood the need for city police forces," Vaknin said. Other big city mayors, such as Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, have also backed the idea. "In Israel, there is one police officer for every 1,000 citizens. Police cannot deal with the duty of crime-fighting alone and provide a sense of security... therefore, city police forces must be there to assist," Yahav told Israel Radio on Monday. But stiff opposition to the plan exists within the top brass at the police's national headquarters in Jerusalem. Insp.-Gen. David Cohen has told Channel 2 in the past of his objections to the plan, viewing it as a measure that would weaken the police. Former deputy investigations head Lt.-Cmdr. (ret.) Ya'acov Grossman told Israel Radio, "Everyone at the national headquarters thinks it's a very bad idea. If this goes through, not only will it not help, but it will damage the police." Grossman said foreign policing models, such as the New York Police Department, were well suited to their own particular circumstances, but that in Israel "every officer should have the same authority across the whole country." He also warned that corruption in local authorities would seep through into the city police forces. "There is widespread corruption, and there is the problem of many family members being given jobs [in local authorities]. I'm scared to think what sort of recruitment methods will be used to hire these city police officers," he said. But Vaknin dismissed such doubts, saying that if local council heads were too corrupt to manage police forces, they shouldn't be in office in the first place. "This is not a reason not to go ahead with this. I know good and bad police commanders. The plan remains a great idea," he added.