Rosh Ha'ayin policemen describe the nearby ultra-Orthodox town Elad as "a hornets' nest of crime," brimming with growing domestic violence, vandalism, juvenile delinquency and traffic violations.

The secular police of the neighboring town admit they have failed to penetrate the ultra-Orthodox community or gain its trust, making it impossible to deal with its rising crime rate.

Elad's community lives cloistered within itself, disregarding the law, according to the police. This is reflected, for example, in the residents' indifference to traffic regulations.

The religious-ethnic tension in Elad is high, frequently erupting in street brawls. The town's violence has increased by some 260 percent in the first half of the year, compared to the equivalent period in 2001, while domestic violence has increased by nearly 100 percent during the same period.

A similar rise in juvenile delinquency has been experienced. "We already know the youth gangs here from the repeated complaints," says Rosh Ha'ayin police commander Chief Superintendent Benny Tiar. In the last few weeks, the police arrested a few minors who were involved in several violent incidents, including extorting "protection fees" from foreign workers at local construction sites and stealing from synagogues.

"These gangs consist of youths who did not follow their parents' religious ways and cannot find themselves in the town," explains local council head Zuriel Krispal. "They develop antagonism toward the community, and we have no suitable framework for them."

Police are extremely frustrated with the difficulty in coping with the increasing crime rate. "We have two main problems in Elad - not knowing the ultra-Orthodox community and the enormous increase of the town's population, while we have remained the same small police station," says Tiar.

Even worse, Elad has no police depot of its own. "When we planned and built the town, we thought the only connection with the police would be routine security matters," says Krispal.

"I know the ultra-Orthodox public, and this kind of society is not supposed to have crime problems beyond, perhaps, `harassment.' I used to live in Jerusalem, and I must admit I've never come across such crime activity. Perhaps I encountered marital problems, but not domestic violence."

Krispal says the town's planners assumed that since it was earmarked for young, high-income earning ultra-Orthodox couples, there would be less crime there.

While the religious council head is surprised by the scope of crime in the town, the secular police are finding it difficult to gain an intelligence foothold within the community. "We know the ultra-Orthodox don't disclose information on each other," says a station detective. "It's a closed society that is very hard for us to work in." For a while, the police operated an ultra-Orthodox intelligence officer in Elad, but he left recently, and the police have been unable to find a replacement. "Without a contact who is `one of theirs,' we will not be able to penetrate the community," the detective said.

The police central district is familiar with the problems in Elad, but have yet to make any decisions.

"I want the police to get in here more, to form strong ties with the community, with the rabbis," says Krispal. "Without knowing the public and being familiar with its ways, it is impossible to succeed here. There is a lot to improve, because our cooperation with the police at present leaves a lot to be desired."

Police sources stress, however, that without additional personnel, or at least one religious cop, the problems in Elad will remain unsolved.