Four days after the police recommended a number of senior Israel Railways officials, including the CEO, be indicted for their alleged role in the deaths that resulted from the train crash at the Beit Yehoshua junction in June 2006, the police themselves have now decided to clean house. It was reported yesterday that the police have decided to send several officers from Petah Tikva to a disciplinary trial for their alleged negligent handling of a complaint that nearly cost lives. The police commander has gone so far as to also include a reprimand in the personal file of the commander in the local station, which may affect his advancement in the force.
It is doubtful whether the disciplinary steps the police force has adopted against its lower ranking officers in Petah Tikva constitute noteworthy progress. Reports on the punishment of officers regarding the flawed way in which they carry out their duty are hyperbole. The day-to-day operations of the police in Israel are full of failings and problems that have, more than once, led to death or injury, without those responsible ever being brought to trial. It is sufficient to observe the conduct of the Petah Tikva police during the past year in order to get an idea of the scope of the failures.
Last year, the cardiologist Dr. Sergei Soloviev arrived at the police station in Petah Tikva drunk and said that he had had a fight with his stepson less than an hour earlier. The policemen took pity on him and took him home in a patrol car, where the good doctor laid down to rest. He then got up, woke up his stepson, and stabbed him in the heart. The doctor was tried for murder; the officers made it back to their base in peace.
In the case of the young Inbal Amram, the officers at the station did not respond to the demands of her father to begin a search for her immediately, after she did not show up to fetch her sister from a party. Only the day after did real efforts begin to locate her. She was found in the car in which she had been kidnapped by the murderer, dead from blood loss. There were no reports of punishment for those officers.
Last week, the officers in Petah Tikva outdid themselves when they were called to the apartment of Konstantin Butchkarnikov and his partner, but did not enter the home and thus missed their chance of saving the woman from the man's violence.
Petah Tikva is only one example. Who knows when officers and their commanders were punished for the failure to fulfill their obligations? Who, among those responsible for ensuring the safety of the public, has answered for the serial killings of the girls in the Abu Ghanem family in Lod? Or, the continuous theft of agricultural equipment and livestock in the western Galilee and the South? Or, for the protection money that citizens are forced to pay in Omer? And what is the relation between the severity of the shortcomings and failures that the police recognizes, during the rare occasions in which it examines itself, and the punishment that it hands down to those responsible?
At most, disciplinary measures are passed on to the guilty officers. But senior officers are never required to pay the price, too. Take, for example the Perinyan case: the Chief of Police, and others in the senior levels of command that were involved in the affair, understood that they should resign following the Zeiler Committee's conclusions. Yet, did it occur to anyone to bring criminal charges against any of them?
Also, in the killing of 13 Arab citizens during the riots of October 2000: Was anyone, high or low ranking, put on trial? The modus operandi of the police also sets the level of expectations regarding the way it will examine its own conduct during the confrontation at Peki'in yesterday.
Major General Yigal Hadad, who investigated the train wreck at Beit Yehoshua, was quoted in Haaretz as saying, "As we progressed in the investigation it became increasingly clear to us that the railway is being managed terribly." It is hard to resist, so we must ask: how are the police managed?
The decision to indict senior railway officials was justified by the police as such: "It emerged that the management of the railway ignored clear instructions the Transportation Ministry in matters pertaining to the field of vision at the junction between the road and the train tracks ... if the railway would have operated according to these rules [establishing safe fields of vision], the accident would have been avoided." The court will decide if this specific conclusion is accurate. In any case, it would be appropriate if the approach that is reflected in the recommendation of the police, which aspires to punish those senior officials responsible for the public safety, would also be applied, first and foremost, to the police itself.
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