A police force to be reckoned with

Frequent criticism of law enforcement implies an ineffective and unprofessional police force. This is most definitely not the case.

police car 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 10 )
police car 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 10 )
I served for eight years in a patrol unit in the police's Jerusalem District. As an officer on duty in one of the country's most complex and busiest patrol areas, I witnessed from the inside the successful functioning of a police force stretched to its limit. On Tuesday, the Israel Police released its latest report on crime statistics. Within hours, criticism of the accuracy and legitimacy of the data could be heard. Some of the criticism may be correct. It is undoubtedly a sign of a healthy democracy if journalism can challenge the findings of state institutions. Yet the frequency and repetitiveness of criticism of law enforcement implies the existence of a police force which is ineffective and unprofessional. This is most definitely not the case. To those of you out there already shaking your heads in dissent, I offer you the following food for thought. Yes, the police is far from perfect and has made critical blunders in the past, blunders which have endangered the very lives of those citizens it is sworn to protect. But so too have the IDF, senior emergency physicians at state hospitals and the Foreign Ministry staff posted abroad. Yet no one states that the IDF is unable to protect our borders, that our hospitals function at the same standard as those in Mogadishu or that our Foreign Ministry is ineffective. RESPONSE TIMES of police field units are exceptional. Officers are aided by state of the art computers which give real time information while maintaining radio channels clear for critical forward unit reports. The relevant field units receive continuous training regarding the handling of crucial issues, such as spousal violence, suicide bomber suspects and first response to mass casualty events. The combination of experience and camaraderie only serves to amplify the effectiveness of these resources and training. Patrol units in the Jerusalem District are under standing orders to arrive at no call in more than 15 minutes. In reality, urgent calls involving risk to human life are responded to in most cases in under three minutes, often less. In my unit (one of the busiest in the country) on average only 5 percent of calls received a response time over the designated 15 minutes. Such calls did not involve life-threatening situations. The force is severely understaffed and underpaid. These two limitations are of course related. The essence of this problem lies not with the police itself, but with the inexplicably small amount of the national budget which decision makers see fit to designate for the police. Exacerbating this obstacle is the fact that the force is one of the few, if not the only in the world, which is forced to spend more time responding to security and public order emergencies than criminal emergencies. Of course not all departments of the police force which have a direct impact on the safety of our citizens are field units. Investigative personnel responsible for processing and questioning suspects and bringing them to trial also form a critical part of the police chain. Again from personal experience gained by working closely with such personnel, I can say that their dedication, professionalism and success matches those of the field units. The public cry of frustration and incredulity at the number of often severe case files closed for "lack of public concern" is one that is often voiced by policemen themselves. Yet again, this cry should be directed not at the police, but at the hopelessly inadequate resources and manpower it receives from our politicians and decision makers. And like the field units, the office personnel also somehow manage to succeed in their task and jail many of those who deserve it most. Yes, as has been mentioned, serious mistakes have been made. In many cases those responsible have been punished. And in my eight years of experience, in all cases the necessary changes were implemented. As always it is the failures which are highlighted and not the many successes. So before our national police force is ripped up by a fusillade of hastily fired volleys, it would be wise to remember that often those making the most virulent criticisms do so from the safety of their homes and offices. And it would be even more crucial to remember that this very safety exists largely because of the efficiency and success of the Israel Police. The writer is a Legacy Heritage Fellow and is currently working at the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism in Herzliya.