The Israel Police is currently facing the most severe crisis in its history, as multiple causes converge to create a perfect storm.
The first cause is long-standing: Over the years, the issue of public security has not received the place it deserves on the national agenda. Crises are mounting – climate change, cyber-crime, pandemics, terrorism, violent crime – and it is becoming increasingly clear how vital it is in a democratic state to have a strong, effective, service-oriented police force.
Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion once said that the military is responsible for state security, and the police for its honor. He understood deeply the role that the police play in a democratic state.
And yet, due to the ongoing Israeli security situation and years of wars against external enemies, the center of gravity has traditionally been on security and defense. This found expression in national resource investment, the police’s image, its low place in decision-making, and more.
In reality, the police have always been involved in all aspects of life, and acted as the national emergency room, investigating public officials, tackling corruption, fighting crime, and combating terrorism. Yet the police in Israel are an eternal punching bag for the public. There will always be those unhappy to get a fine, to be arrested, or face indictment. Police are easily and quickly slandered here – and this damages the organization.
Ultimately, the ability of the police to function is based on public faith. When this faith is eroded, the public stops cooperating with it. On the flip side of the equation, criminals stop being deterred and become ever bolder about committing crimes. This sends the country into a sharp, downward slippery slope.
On top of this, the way the police force is seen from the outside seeps into the organization. Police officers want to feel motivated, but the more the media attacks the police, the harder it is for officers to find the will to stay. Growing numbers are finding reasons to leave. The fact that their salaries are ridiculously low, that they work 24/7, endanger their lives, have no extra paid hours, no union rights, and have poor employment conditions, only adds to the desire of some officers to quit.
Despite public perception, not anyone can become a police officer. It’s a profession that requires over a year of training, followed by further on-the-job qualifications. When an officer leaves, major resources get thrown away.
Personnel shortages mean that qualification processes have been shortened, leading to police officers with lower professional capabilities – thus creating another vicious cycle.
Today, in the post-pandemic era, when a new generation has no hesitation about moving jobs, when police officers no longer receive budgetary pensions, but rather, cumulative ones, and when there are many tempting job opportunities in the civilian market, including comfortable work-from-home jobs, many are leaving the force, unwilling to risk their lives for low salaries and widespread contempt.
Meanwhile, public security ministers avoided appointing commissioners for years, choosing to work with acting commissioners instead, meaning that long-term planning and force build-up programs were impossible. The ministers’ refusal to appoint commissioners was also a statement on how they viewed the importance of the police. Apparently, an organization that doesn’t “need” a commissioner isn’t very important.
IT IS against this backdrop that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir took office. Ben Gvir has been convicted of several offenses and has a highly aggressive policy regarding his ministerial mandate and approach to the police chief.
If someone convicted of criminal offenses becomes head of police, what does this mean? Could something similar happen to the Shin Bet or IDF? This development further suggests that the government doesn’t think the police force is very important.
The coalition agreements that stipulate the National Security Minister’s right to directly activate the police, and Ben Gvir’s call to set up a national guard under his direct authority, rather than that of the police, all send the same message about the force’s low standing.
Worse still, they threaten to infect the police with politics, something that must never happen in a country that wants to remain democratic. Only the police commissioner should activate the police, while the minister should focus on policies.
Today, after the pandemic; the Mount Meron stampede in 2021; Operation Guardian of the Walls in the same year that saw widespread rioting in Arab-Israeli areas; the current political deadlock with 30 weeks of mass protests; skyrocketing Arab sector crime; and an almost full neutralization of the police’s ability to employ technology like cyber and signals intelligence, the police has hit rock bottom.
It has very few tools and abilities to deal with the challenges it faces. It is being told to fight crime blindfolded.
How to improve the Israel Police
LOOKING AHEAD at the next decade, bold decisions are in order. First, the police must be defined as a critical pillar in national resilience. Next, governments must allocate to police suitable financial and personnel resources – billions of additional shekels and thousands of extra personnel. The billions that were promised to the police currently do not appear to be materializing.
Police must also be allowed, under supervision, to employ technological means, or there will be no meaningful war against 21st-century crime. State leaders need to begin publicly backing the force, and that also means not ignoring them during the annual torch-lighting ceremony on Independence Day, for example, and promoting a new national narrative that isn’t exclusively focused on the military.
When the public receives good service from a police force that receives proper investment; when calls to the emergency hotline are answered effectively; when community police officers check-in, and investigations don’t end abruptly; when patrol cars arrive within 20 minutes and not an hour, the public will naturally warm to the police.
Finally, the new Israeli national guard must operate under police command, not under a civilian ministry headed by a minister.
If Israel’s ER (emergency room) is to start working properly again, these are the minimal steps necessary, and there isn’t much time to waste.
The commanders, officers, fighters, and volunteers in the Israel Police are dedicated and professional. In one moment, they foil terrorism, in another, they foil homicides, prevent accidents, and fight drugs. The second largest organization in Israel must receive a higher spot on the national priority list, and it must also get practical recognition as a critical pillar in national security and resilience.
The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. He is a former Israel Police Deputy Commissioner, and the CEO of Next-Now strategic consulting and entrepreneurship. He is also head of the National Resilience Department at Ono Academic College.