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Police officers continued to drop out at an alarming rate in the first half of the year amid low starting pay. A report by the police's personnel department to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee states that 290 officers quit between January and June, compared with 186 a year earlier - an increase of 56 percent. Of these, 51 were higher-ranking officers.

The wave of resignations hit the Temple Mount police station especially hard: At least 20 officers have left in the past three years.

Police data show that 397 officers resigned in 2007, a 50-percent increase over 2006 (264). During the first quarter of this year, 130 officers quit, a rise of more than 90 percent from the first quarters of 2007 and 2006 (68 and 66 resignations respectively). During the second quarter of this year, 160 officers left, an increase of about 25 percent from the preceding quarter.

Among those who quit this year, 29 percent had been on the job only a year or two, 24 percent were in their third or fourth years, and 38 percent were in their sixth year or beyond.

The dropout rate is especially striking in view of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's promise to recruit a thousand more police officers in 2008. In practice, 31 officers were enlisted by mid-April.

The main catalyst for the exodus is the low starting pay. A rookie officer makes NIS 5,000 for a full-time job, which means take-home pay of around NIS 4,300. There is no remuneration for overtime, night or weekend duty, or for being called in for emergencies.

Some of those who leave the police move to the Shin Bet security service, where the pay is much higher.

Interior Committee chairman Ophir Pines-Paz called the dropout phenomenon "worrisome and dangerous," saying that "the public is the one to pay the price." He plans to anchor in legislation the government's decision to link police and career army salaries "so the police don't have to go chasing after every pay raise."

Another reason police officers are leaving is the sharp decline in the police's public standing, Pines-Paz added.

The situation at the Temple Mount station is dire. MK Shachiv Shnaan (Labor-Meimad) claimed in a parliamentary question addressed to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter that 32 police officers had quit the unit in the past two years.

In his response last Wednesday in the Knesset, Dichter conceded that there have been numerous resignations, but claimed that the true figures are 20 officers in the past three years: five Jews, five Muslims, nine Druze and one Christian. Dichter said the wave of dropouts from this police station stemmed from "a pretty tough and exhausting routine of static sentry duties while wearing a flak jacket and carrying other equipment, besides constant friction with the population on the Temple Mount."