A good officer

The police must convince Israel's citizenry it is led by officers who are ethical and above reproach.

Zeiler 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Zeiler 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The perils of whistle-blowing were unequivocally underscored when the hospitalization of Dep.-Cmdr. Ephraim Ehrlich of Zeiler Inquiry fame (popularly known by his nickname "Cremeschnitte") was reported this week. Ehrlich collapsed after a confrontation with his boss, who had informed him that yet again he is to be relegated to the constabulary's dead-end and denied any prospect of promotion. Not only has Ehrlich been assigned to the post of deputy chief of the Hebron station (after a not-so-desirable stint as head of the central unit of the Traffic Police) but he is also slated to remain in the same rank despite the indisputable fact that he was due promotion long ago. The reason for his travails is no secret. To his fellow cops Ehrlich is one of the most disliked, if not reviled, members of the force - and all because he took crime-prevention ultra-seriously. A graduate of the Tel Aviv District Central Unit, Ehrlich gained renown as one of the brightest intelligence officers, a go-getter detective who scored considerable successes in the battle against hard crime in the city. In 2004 he tried to interest members of the press in information about the collusion of officers in the Southern District with known underworld kingpins, the brothers Perinian. Eventually his leaks led to the formation of the Zeiler Commission of Inquiry into police conduct. The most crucial, thorough and damning evidence was provided by an insider identified then only as Mr. X. But the police upper echelon figured X was Ehrlich; his eventual "outing" confirmed the suspicions. Almost immediately Ehrlich was warned that he would never get ahead in the force and no effort was spared to cause him to quit in a huff. Yet he hung on, against expectations, despite lowly and humiliating assignments. Things didn't improve 11 months ago when the Zeiler Commission's final report triggered a powerful earthquake beneath Israel's police establishment. The report, which bore out Ehrlich's contentions that the country's presumed "untouchables" had been touched, tempted and corrupted by known criminal elements, generated a shake-up that led to the replacement of then inspector-general Moshe Karadi and other members of the top brass. Yet even David Cohen, the successor to the disgraced Karadi, has proved inimical to Ehrlich. Ehrlich's medical state notwithstanding, the police reconfirmed his "appointment" to Hebron, thereby certifying that he won't be advanced. The Movement for Quality Government plans to petition the Supreme Court, but Ehrlich's career appears to be the fatal casualty of his dedication. In many countries whistleblowers are protected by law, but in fact most remain vulnerable to retribution by those they helped expose - particularly if, as in Ehrlich's case, they dared take on a potent officialdom which continues to make sure they are ostracized by co-workers, discriminated against and even pushed out of the organization. Ironically, the Zeiler report, which was intended to set off a cleansing process in the badly tarnished force, has only intensified skewed police codes of silence - not unlike those imposed by the underworld. By such unspoken codes, the villain is the one who discloses malfeasance, while the valued comrade is the one who covers it up. Absolute incorruptibility exists in no police framework anywhere. Real-life law-enforcers rub elbows with the lawless, and in close proximity dirt rubs off. It may well be that the inherent interest of top cops is to punish those of their officers who don't keep mum - as well as to demonstrate to future "snitches" that it doesn't pay to blow the whistle. But it is the incontrovertible interest of the society which the police is sworn to protect to make sure that blatant manifestations of "in-house" retaliation against public-spirited officers are not tolerated. Whistleblower immunity is particularly paramount in the police context. It is no less than an indispensable prerequisite for restoring sagging public faith in the police. The police must convince Israel's citizenry that it is led by officers who are, and are also seen to be, ethical and above reproach. There must be zero lenience not only for senior personnel with less-than-immaculate records but also for those higher-ups who even appear to shield sleazy subordinates. Rather than deter future whistleblowers, the police command would do better to deter any officers from zigzagging on the shady edges of the law and expecting their mates to loyally keep quiet. The treatment of Ephraim Ehrlich is shameful, intolerable and the very opposite of what a committed officer, a man of integrity, had the right to expect.