Police accountability

Sela's successful absconding merely underscores numerous chronic failures.

sela 88 (photo credit: Israel Police)
sela 88
(photo credit: Israel Police)
Had sadistic serial-rapist Benny Sela's escape been a rare occurrence - one that didn't involve obvious carelessness, if not outright bungling - had there been no foreseeable flight risk and had the post-getaway response been more immediate and competent, this unfortunate episode could have been ascribed to the sort of bad luck that cannot be avoided anywhere. The occasional mistake cannot be ruled out in any organization - no matter how efficient or well-disciplined - and especially in the sphere of law enforcement, where too many determined obstructive forces are thrown into the mix. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the job of police on the beat can be one of the more dangerous, stressful, and in relative terms, poorly compensated, both financially and in terms of the public's gratitude. Nevertheless, the citizenry, which relies on its law-enforcers for its most basic safety, is fully entitled to expect the best efforts on its behalf. Sadly this cannot be taken for granted and Sela's successful absconding merely underscores numerous chronic failures, so serious and so frequent as to justify our acute anxiety. We will not dwell on the more-than-negligible suspicions of corruption, the dismissive and disdainful responses toward complaints lodged with the police - as in the recent abduction and murder of Inbal Amram in Petah Tikva, whose distraught father was callously ejected from his local police precinct - the sluggishness of police action even when calls for help are taken seriously, or the reluctance to fight "petty crime" ranging from burglary to auto theft. What happens after our cops get their man isn't appreciably better. As the police and Prisons Service try to pin the blame on each other in the Sela case, one fact is incontrovertible: The Tel Aviv police unit entrusted with escorting detainees is a disaster waiting to happen - indeed a disaster that has now happened. The Prisons Service may have been sloppy in not checking up on Sela's purported Labor Court summons for a day when no such court sessions are held, but that needn't have resulted in his escape. Had the escorting officers cuffed and shackled him as regulations require, and had they returned him to prison as soon as the blunder became apparent, it would have ended in a redundant outing for Sela. But Sela, not properly restricted, ran off from a Tel Aviv court complex two full hours after it was clear that his trip was in error. The Tel Aviv escort unit is a "last chance" posting for policemen regarded as unsuitable for other duties, expelled from other units and not trained for their new assignment. Laxity with rules is the unit's dishonorable hallmark. Prisoners are often transported unshackled (sometimes the excuse being a lack of leg irons). On many occasions some of the escorts leave or are too chummy with their charges. Just six weeks ago another prisoner - less dangerous and less famous - got away from the same courthouse by running out the front gate and hailing a cab. Since the beginning of the year the police has lost eight escorted prisoners, all in situations extremely embarrassing for the escorts. In this instance, escorts failed to give chase until reinforcements belatedly started running around like Keystone Kops, uncertain of what to do or how do it. The energetic passing of the buck in which the police is now engaged is hardly the professional antidote to the malfunctions highlighted by the Sela escape. There's something profoundly wrong here that transcends the botch-up by the individual escorts involved. The fact that the escort unit is so notoriously inept should have been no secret to police upper echelons. Clearly, however, senior officers will not be motivated to exercise their authority unless their own careers are on the line. Otherwise, lackadaisical complacency and deplorable disorder will continue to jeopardize ordinary citizens, like the women whom Sela endangers. No dispensations should be countenanced for police powers-that-be who should have known how mismanaged their organization is. They must be given the most powerful incentives for tidying up the act of even the lowliest and least prestigious units under their nominal control. The buck must be seen to stop with them.