Police! Police!

Olmert must replenish Israel's depleted police and pay new recruits enough money to live on.

police 88 (photo credit: )
police 88
(photo credit: )
While the rest of us are enjoying our Pessah holiday, thousands of police officers are working long hours to maintain public order and protect citizens and visitors. In return for their efforts, Israel's police force is understaffed, underpaid and - judging by the policies of the Treasury - undervalued. Take what happened at last week's Knesset Internal Affairs Committee session. The Knesset had just approved, in preliminary reading, Kadima MK Shai Hermesh's bill to recruit 10,000 more officers. That sounds like a lot, but it isn't. The force is shorthanded and can barely cope with the challenges posed by a growing population, a more aggressive underworld and ever-pressing security concerns. Hermesh's bill was a welcome development. Twenty years ago there were four cops per 1,000 civilians. Today, there are two for every 1,000. In the five boroughs of New York City, by comparison, there are roughly five officers per 1,000 citizens. To its credit, the government initially backed Hermesh's bill which, if fully implemented, would restore the four cops for every 1,000 citizens ratio of two decades ago. Regrettably, that's not the way things played out. It took only a few weeks for the government to backtrack on its support. In mid-February the news was that, in cooperation with the finance and public security ministers, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had decided to boost police ranks by 1,000 extra cops during 2008. Although that would have been only one-tenth of what was originally envisaged, the number was still nothing to scoff at. Olmert seemed to understand the score. On February 17, he said that "There's no other comparable force in the world burdened with as many tasks, obligations and functions. We have convinced the Treasury that the Israel Police must have additional personnel to an extent unprecedented for many years... These new police officers will be assigned to precincts and come in contact with the public to improve their sense of personal safety." Amen to that. But it was all talk. The figures Olmert presented at a later cabinet session provided for only 200 additional police. And even these 200 were not to be signed-up in one swoop but in several phases. Then the Treasury said that, actually, no more than 60 officers could be enlisted in calendar year 2008. Knesset member Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu), a former deputy police commissioner, said it for all of us: "I don't know whether to laugh or cry..." YOUNG POLICE recruits fresh out of the IDF can expect a gross monthly salary of NIS 5,000 (and to take home about NIS 4,000). In return, they are often called upon to work long hours in sometimes unpleasant conditions with the constant prospect of life-threatening danger. Some of our younger officers are also part-time college students. Given their salary and conditions, is it any surprise that 500 cops quit the force in 2007, and that so far this year another 212 have left? Israel's police force is hemorrhaging personnel, while a skimping Treasury runs bureaucratic rings around the Knesset. Meanwhile, to make up the difference, police training courses have been cut and the force is increasingly dependent on volunteers. What politicians need to understand is that when they promise the public something and don't deliver - and do it time and again across a range of issues - they are undermining trust in the political system. The last thing this country needs is more cynicism and alienation, which is precisely what this government seems to invite. But it's not too late. Prime Minister Olmert needs to call in Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On and Ministry Director-General Yoram Ariav the first thing after the holiday. His instructions should be to replenish Israel's depleted law enforcement agency and pay new recruits enough money to live on. Then Olmert's staff should set a deadline and target numbers for the Treasury to meet. Our safety depends on it.