Fatal accidents. Wild drivers. The country, and more so, the police, are aghast. Emergency meetings. Special teams. Increased enforcement. Empty words to cover up a reality that is the polar opposite of all these measures. Those in Israel who still believe that the police brass really take road accidents into consideration must as children have also believed their parents who said a policeman would show up if they did not eat their porridge.
Traffic is the only police work in which "every day there is a body count," in the words of one cop who has seen a lot over the years. The cold, bitter index is measured by the number of casualties. That is the outcome. The input says the opposite: The police look down on the Traffic Department.
Organizational priorities are expressed in appointments and budgets. The police force funds mainly the salaries of the traffic police. Other funding for the Traffic Department, including for patrol cars, must come from external sources, particularly from the Transport Ministry. This same strange arrangement prevails in the white collar crimes unit, which was established through Finance Ministry funding, and the car theft unit, funded with the assistance of the insurance companies.
As usual, the police follow the army's lead: the Americans supply fighter jets and Israel supplies the pilots that fly them. The Transport Ministry provides the patrol cars and the Traffic Department provides the police that drive them. They go out morning and night, Shabbat and holiday, to fight the unceasing war of attrition on the roads - the system's menial laborers.
For certain jobs to be considered desirable, as a springboard to promotion attracting quality officers, the police must mark them as "core positions." The officers in the national and regional Traffic Department hear from the Human Resources Department that they are second class. First class is reserved for station and regional commanders and the heads of special patrol units. The signal is understood: When there are two positions with the identical rank of chief superintendent, and only one appears to be on a track to a commander-rank assignment, it is clear which position a talented superintendent will strive for.
The police's hypocrisy begins even with its attitude toward officers who want to fight corruption. The system punishes those who dare to take its declared goals seriously.
There is one "core position" in the traffic police - commander of the central unit. But this position, as the devil would have it, is held by Chief Superintendent Ephraim Ehrlich, whose complaints against former police commissioner Moshe Karadi led to the establishment of the Zeiler Committee, and thus to Karadi's resignation. Last week the police brigadier generals got together to appoint officers to commander-rank posts. Ehrlich was a candidate for two posts in the Investigations and Intelligence Department and one in the Central Region. In each of the three cases, erudite explanations were given on why he should be passed over in favor of others.
If the appointments committee would have examined personnel files without knowing whose they were, Ehrlich, who has been at his current post for seven years, would have come out ahead of officers whose experience and achievements are inferior to his. But the last time he went incognito was as the Zeiler Committee's "Mr. X."
The new police commissioner, David Cohen, X-ed out Mr. X. Cohen and Ehrlich are old adversaries from the days they both served in Tel Aviv's central unit in the 1990s, Cohen as station commander and Ehrlich as the head of the vice squad. Cohen also bears a grudge against Ehrlich because of an innocent trick other officers dreamed up and had the central unit carry out. To show off the Traffic Department's abilities, they photographed Cohen driving from his house. To everyone's embarrassment, Cohen was found to be driving a good deal over the speed limit. An award Ehrlich received for his fight against corruption from a civilian association also angered Cohen, who spread word throughout the police of the "Ehrlich prohibition." From now on, such recognition was prohibited and might be considered an illicit benefit.
Even the police commissioner does not have the final say. The police commissioner's boss is supposed to be the public security minister, whose signature is needed for appointments to be approved. But Public Security Minister Avi Dichter is busy with politics and making declarations. Dichter is in the same situation as commanders of elite units in the military when they find themselves having to lead the great, gray army: An excellent head of the Shin Bet Security service has become a failure of a minister. Traffic, the police and the country are paying the price.
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