Israel Police.
Illustration: Israel Police. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Text size
related tags

After the police's failure to respond to a call about a group of noisy teens outside a family home ended in the murder of Gadi Vichman last week, police claimed that their desperate shortage of manpower is what causes such mishaps. Senior police officers were quick to blame the Finance Ministry, saying it hasn't allocated money for so much as a single extra policeman since 1994, even though the population has grown.

But Finance Ministry data paints a very different picture. It shows that in 2004, there were 27,135 policemen, while by 2012, the number had grown 5.7 percent, to 29,416.

The treasury agrees with the police that more cops would be a good thing, but says budgetary constraints don't allow it. Nevertheless, it argues, police could significantly improve their performance by making better use of existing manpower - for instance, taking some people out of administrative jobs and putting them on the street. It also claims that police complaints about lack of money and manpower are aimed mainly at diverting public attention from its administrative problems.

Over the last three years the police have signed several agreements with the treasury aimed at boosting its staff and improving its performance. The first, signed in 2009, allowed the police to hire another 250 people, but obligated it to carry out a significant reorganization. Inter alia, it stated that after five years on the job some officers would have to be dismissed, while the rest would be promoted and given a substantial raise. The goal was to enable the force to improve the quality of its recruits.

Just last month another agreement was signed that significantly raises policemen's salaries.

In February, a deal was signed under which the treasury agreed to finance an extra 200 policemen, plus the cost of setting up police stations, in order to fight rising crime in the Arab community by opening new stations in Arab towns. This program is slated to be expanded next year, if funds are available.

Budget increase

A deal signed in March gave the police yet another budget increase, to step up enforcement against illegal building by Bedouin in the Negev. It grants initial funding for another 100 officers plus the cost of setting up a special unit dedicated to enforcing the building laws, and is supposed to be further expanded next year.

Finally, there is the municipal policing program, which is mostly funded by the treasury. That program enabled the national police force to stop dealing with certain minor crimes and focus instead on more serious crime.

But treasury officials say there are certain organizational steps the force can and should take immediately to improve its performance. These are based largely on a report by the McKinsey consulting firm, which found that there are too few officers patrolling the streets and responding to calls - but there is an excess of administrative manpower. It also found that patrol cars actually spend only 40 percent of their time patrolling the streets: The other 60 percent of the time, they are being used for administrative tasks.

Since the force doesn't give each policeman his own car, a practice has developed of sending cars to pick up all policemen slated to work a given shift and then take them home at the end. Essentially, therefore, at every shift change, the police station turns into a taxi stand, with the patrol cars serving as taxis and the duty officer as dispatcher. As a result, patrol cars are frequently unavailable to do their official job: patrolling the streets.

The police don't deny this, but senior officers insist there is no choice: Round-the-clock shifts mean that public transportation isn't always available, and there is no budget for an organized pick-up and drop-off service.

McKinsey also found that even though responsibility for escorting prisoners to and from interrogation or court sessions has officially been transferred from the police to the Israel Prison Service, police often wind up having to do the job. Usually, the assignment goes to beat cops, which takes them off the streets.

Escort jobs

Police say they end up doing about 20 percent of such escort jobs. McKinsey said that if the Prison Service handled all this work, as it is supposed to, hundreds of additional officers would be freed to patrol the streets instead of shuttling between the jail, the police station and the courthouse.

Altogether, 75 percent of the police's budget goes toward paying salaries. Under an agreement with the treasury, the police's pay scale is tied to that of the Israel Defense Forces. The police fought tooth and nail to get this agreement, believing it would up their pay, but treasury officials believe it actually hurts junior police officers.

An IDF company commander, they explain, is usually a young, single man. But someone of equivalent rank in the police is often older, married and with children, and hence, in need of more money. Moreover, beat cops, who do the bulk of the work, are considered equivalent to an ordinary soldier, meaning their pay is not commensurate with their level of responsibility.

The ones who benefit from this linkage, however, are those who make the decisions - the senior officers, who have little interest in curtailing their generous pay and benefits for the sake of improving the lot of the rank and file. Thus, while the treasury believes ending the linkage would enable police to improve their wages, and hence the motivation of the cops who actually interact daily with the public, police seem unlikely to agree.

Moreover, while the treasury allocates money to hire additional policemen, it has no say in whether they are used to beef up street patrols or headquarters staff; police set their own priorities for where additional manpower is needed.

Meanwhile, police continue to insist that they need another 5,000 officers to attain a reasonable ratio of policemen to population. But if the McKinsey report is to be believed, the force still has a lot of work to do to make the most efficient use of the men it has.

Police said they did not intend to respond to claims by anonymous sources that were aimed solely at undermining the police.