The current challenging security situation in Israel reflects a key fact: National resilience and domestic security are just as important as the ability to defend borders against external threats.
Add the ongoing terrorism threat faced by Israeli cities to the threat from projectiles from Lebanon and Gaza, and it becomes clear that the Israel Police is simply too small to carry out its many missions.
Since 1991, Israel has doubled its population, yet the police force has increased by a mere 20%. The officer-to-civilian ratio in Israel is one of the worst in the West.
To fill the gaps, the Israel Police has grown used to improvising solutions, through measures such as temporarily deploying backup forces from one district to another.
This is now occurring in the Jerusalem District, the center of friction and disturbances during the Ramadan holiday period. The technique of moving police units from place to place has plenty of costs, as well. It generates organizational demoralization and creates endless logistical headaches.
Temporary measures will not enable the government to evade the need to make a decision. If the government wants to seriously boost national resilience, it would be well advised to go beyond seat-of-the-pants ‘solutions,’ like getting IDF units to go on patrol with police. It needs to strengthen the police during routine times, too.
The Israel Police is the only force of its kind in the West that is responsible for both classic policing missions and emergency security situations. A life-affirming state that seeks democracy, order, public discipline, law and the rule of law must strengthen its police force during their routine.
Civilians want to see police on the streets in order to regain their sense of security. They want rapid response times to security and criminal incidents. But the resources for those expectations are simply not currently in place.
The Israel Police’s personnel are highly motivated. Recent terror attacks have, once again, demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice their own lives to protect the public’s lives and safety. Police officers ask no questions before jumping on motorbikes and taking on terrorist gunmen on city streets.
Yet, the dominant narrative in Israeli society during quieter times is that the police force is no good, incapable of providing decent service and is of poor quality. This narrative does not take into account the fact that the police force receives eight million calls per year and that a million of those turn into police field responses.
When terrorism is inactive, the police becomes the public’s favorite punching bag. Only when officers go out and get killed as they tackle terrorists does the force begin to receive public credit for its dedication. This narrative harms the police’s morale in a significant manner.
This can help explain why 600 police officers quit their positions in the past year alone. If Israel wants to achieve domestic stability and prosperity, it will have to save its police and reshape the public narrative not only during emergencies.
THERE ARE many bright spots when it comes to the police’s development. Its ability to cooperate with the Shin Bet intelligence agency and the IDF is stronger than ever. Together, they form the three pillars for quashing terrorism that emanates from Judea and Samaria, Gaza and from within Israel. This cooperation is critical going forward.
While security forces will have to investigate how the latest string of attacks occurred, for every four or five attacks that take place, literally hundreds of terror plots have been foiled. This is accomplished through close cooperation on a daily basis between the civilian police, the Border Police’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, the Border Police, the Shin Bet and the IDF.
Years of relative security quiet have always been deceptive. Every day, these units thwart murderous terrorist attacks. Yet, it is only when waves of attack occur that the police’s neglect comes into public focus. As such, there is no way around the need to increase the police’s budget, currently NIS 11 billion. All told, this budget is absurd in light of the quantity of missions faced by the police force.
After money is spent on salaries and pensions, barely one percent of the police budget is left for development. Fortunately, police salaries were recently raised after being intolerably low for years. But funds for development are still lacking. In addition, building a reserves model for the Border Police can also go a long way to building a new emergency response force for domestic crises. Such a system could also retain knowledge that would otherwise get lost when Border Police officers leave their positions.
Another tool that can enable police to conduct large-scale security campaigns is the volunteer force. At its peak, the police’s volunteer force totaled 70,000. Today, it is less than half of that due to the decreased age requirements, and more stringent operational security and professional standards in place for approving new volunteers.
Volunteers act as a key bridge between the community and the police. They can help shift the toxic narrative while boosting the public’s sense of security. In addition, it is time to examine the need to free up resources by turning some uniformed policing roles into civilian roles, particularly in office positions. There is no reason why civilians cannot fulfill some of these roles and this is an accepted norm in other forces in the western world. That could help increase the police’s size.
At the end of the day, if the size of the police force is not increased, the country will not be able to escape the vicious cycle of inadequate domestic security response capabilities.
A police force that is too small cannot afford the luxury of allowing officers to train, study and gain new tools, thus creating additional harm. Afterward, complaints become common about unprofessional officers. It is difficult to send officers for more training when they spend 24-7 dealing with crime, terrorism and traffic. All of this stems from a lack of personnel.
The current wave of terrorism in Israel crashes on civilians, who are the intended target. The goal of terrorism is always to spread fear. To counteract this evil, building national domestic resilience during routine times is necessary. That can only be done by police, acting as the ceramic vest of the state. The time to invest is when things are quiet, rather than remembering to take improvised action during emergencies.
The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. He served for 34 years in the Israel Police, concluding his service as deputy commissioner in 2019. He is head of the National Resilience Department at Ono Academic College.