Disobedience and city policing

We should rethink, restructure and resize the force, and give our citizens an environment of law, order and security.

Police at Tel Aviv Central Bus Station 370 (photo credit: Ricardo Mallaco)
Police at Tel Aviv Central Bus Station 370
(photo credit: Ricardo Mallaco)
‘Good morning, officer,” my grandfather greeted a policeman as we walked down the street in Malden, Massachusetts.
“Good morning, Mr. Slater!” the officer replied cheerfully. “It’s great that your grandson from Israel is here.”
I have never experienced anything like this in Israel, where a police officer on foot, “walking the beat,” is a rare spectacle.
I think of this daily, when drivers go wild on city and inter-urban roads with not a cop in sight. I know we have a problem when I hear loud music in the middle of the night, or see people chuck cigarette butts from their car windows.
I am reminded of this every Friday at my children’s school in Modi’in. Parents park illegally, even on the crosswalk. Some just leave their cars in the middle of the street and walk away. There are even those who keep honking until they attract their children’s attention. I stand there angry, disappointed and puzzled.
First, I cannot understand why we act in a way that endangers ourselves and our children, and seriously disrupts our own quality of life. Second, I do not comprehend our lack of respect for the law. When I dare ask someone to refrain from doing something disturbing and illegal, I usually get a response such as, “Who do you think you are, a policeman?”
This leads to a third point. Where are the police? Knowing our disobedient nature, why have we completely neglected city policing? I believe that Israeli culture lacks understanding of an important principal in democracy. We construct laws and willingly surrender some of our freedoms in order to protect ourselves from internal and external threats. The key to success is strictly upholding the law and treating it as sacrosanct.
Although Israel is a vibrant and unique democracy, we ourselves are not entirely law abiding. We think the law is “flexible.” When convenient, we speed and park our car on the sidewalk, but as pedestrians we scold the reckless drivers.
The solution is long-term education to bring about a shift in cultural behavior. But since this will unfortunately take a few more generations, we must first focus on enforcement. We need city policing.
Lucky for us, the challenges we face are still relatively easy. I may complain about manners, obedience to the law and quality of life in Modi’in, but I usually don’t risk getting shot at while arguing over a parking space.
But there is negative trend. We are seeing an increase in various forms of violence. Who would believe that you have to think twice before asking a group of teenagers to turn down the noise in the middle of the night? Following recent incidents, maybe you should.
The Israel Police has a national monopoly over law enforcement and this has led to an unfortunate anomaly: We elect our municipal leaders mainly due to their promise to improve our quality of life, yet in reality they have no authority over the significant (if not dominating) component that is law enforcement.
It is important to understand this in a historic and cultural perspective. City police forces existed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. The colonial model later adopted by David Ben-Gurion suited the early stages of a state strengthening its central control over a diverse and divided society. We continue these old traditions and norms, and abstain from updating legislation. Over the years, we established numerous committees but mostly disregarded their recommendations.
Every new minister and police inspector-general introduces his vision and initiates new programs. We have “community policing,” “combined policing” and “city without violence,” all positive and systemic programs intended to increase security, sense of personal security and quality of life, and to reduce criminal and anti-social behavior.
The problem is that it’s using the same basic structure with no added resources.
There is wide disparity in policing models around the world, but most countries employ forms of decentralized law enforcement. The most famous example is the dramatic reduction in crime and boost in quality of life in New York following an aggressive law enforcement strategy.
Whatever model we choose, we must carefully consider appropriate checks and balances, as we rightfully fear misuse of power and corruption. Also, increased police presence must be accompanied by careful selection and training to ensure a polite and respectful interaction with citizens.
I do not claim that the only relevant model is a city police. I believe that, allocated the appropriate resources, the police station may serve the city while also answering to a national hierarchy. It is important to regulate the levels of commitment to the municipalities’ needs while limiting the ability of the national organization to intervene.
The police station is a key element in providing law enforcement services to the citizens. It is where the work is really done. All the higher echelons of district and regional headquarters are bureaucratic overhead.
The wonderful work being done at the police station in my town is an outstanding example of cooperation with the city and commitment to serving the citizens. But, there’s a limit to what they can achieve with approximately one-and-a-half police officers per 1,000 citizens and two police cars per shift.
They certainly cannot handle the bedlam outside our school on Friday.
We must stop inventing new programs with the existing concepts. Instead, we should rethink, restructure and resize the force, and give our citizens an environment of law, order and security.
The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd., that focuses on bridging cultural gaps in international cooperation.