Two important verdicts were handed down last week by two separate courts - one in the south and one in the north. Prima facie, both appear to have grappled with outbreaks of vigilantism. Yet superficial similitude is misleading, hence the two radically different rulings. A Beersheba court exonerated rancher Shai Dromi from manslaughter charges arising from his shooting, on January 13, 2007, at four intruders, killing one of them. They trespassed onto his property, poisoned his guard-dog (not the first such occurrence) and broke into the sheep-pen. Dromi feared for his life. In Haifa, four policemen, all with promising careers in a prestigious unit, were convicted for having plotted to attack local crime boss Michael Mor with explosives. They too claimed to have acted in self-defense because Mor had terrorized them and their families with impunity. After grenades were tossed into the officers' homes, they concluded that "it was him or them." The palpable difference between the two cases was that Dromi was judged to have perceived himself in pressing existential danger. The cops, however, had conspired to thwart a danger that wasn't as immediate. What the two cases do have in common is the fact that at different ends of the country, citizens who are otherwise upstanding members of society resorted to violence - not in order to abet the commission of felonies, but in order to thwart criminals. Effectively, they became vigilantes. A VIGILANTE is one who enacts his own form of justice in response to insufficient or inept protection by authorities. Vigilantism grows in dark, seamy recesses where anarchy reigns. Like the Negev, where no farmer is exempt from the reign of terror imposed by Beduin gangs. The police do little, and rarely arrive even when summoned. Insurance companies will have nothing to do with beleaguered farmers. Their only recourse is paying exorbitant "protection" sums to Beduin "guards" in order to prevent them from absconding with equipment, livestock and/or produce. On Wednesday night, livestock was reportedly stolen from Ariel Sharon's heavily secured farm. The Negev has justly earned the unflattering moniker of Israel's "Wild South." Throughout large lawless tracts - including posh Beersheba suburbs - no entrepreneur, homeowner or driver is safe from predation. THE CONVICTED officers weren't bad apples, but individuals charged with safeguarding the applecart. Isn't it sad that the police were unable to offer reasonable protection to these officers whose safety (and that of their families) was on the line for their community's sake? Most distressing is the fact that the law-enforcers themselves had lost faith in the power of police and the legal system to effectively come to their aid. What conclusions, then, are ordinary citizens to draw? But it isn't only the police who disappoint. The judiciary is just as likely to demonstrate indifference to defending the populace. Last week, the parents of 15-year-old Ma'ayan Sapir - who was raped, tortured and finally murdered near her Rehovot home in 2005 - sued the state for allowing the extraordinarily sadistic juvenile delinquent who attacked her out on furlough from the facility in which he was incarcerated. From age 12, this lout had been involved in drugs, break-ins and inflicting grievous bodily harm. Prior to his "vacation," he assaulted a fellow inmate, carving curses on his victim's body. The police and welfare authorities demanded imprisonment in an adult penitentiary; the court opted for leniency and sent him to a juvenile detention facility, whose inmates are allowed furloughs. His fateful chance encounter with Ma'ayan occurred on his second furlough. THE CRISIS of confidence that results when citizens lose faith in their criminal justice system engenders widespread insecurity both inside the system and out. The citizenry watches helplessly as crime families brazenly do what they please, subverting or terminating witnesses and even intimidating officers. Unavoidably, law enforcement's malfunction is bound to erode the established value system - as evinced in the tragedy of the four officers and Shai Dromi's ordeal. This newspaper by no means justifies vigilantism. In fact, we emphatically and unequivocally oppose it. What we expect is law enforcement - on all levels.