Volunteer police claim ticketing fellow officer led to unfair removal
He assisted in thousands of rescues and dozens of operations in his nine years of volunteer service for the police, but all that it took to end Moti Shani's career in law enforcement was a single ticket - handed to another policeman. The policeman in question, says Shani, filed a complaint, complete with fabricated photos, and led to the suspension of Shani and another volunteer.
The incident occurred last April, during the Passover holiday. Shani, 44, a member of Kibbutz Naan who has also been a Magen David Adom volunteer for 20 years, was monitoring traffic together with another volunteer.
At a certain point, near the Bilu junction, the two noticed a vehicle with a license plate obscured by a bicycle rack, an offense that carries the same weight as driving without a license in Israeli law.
Shani said that as soon as they got the vehicle to pull over, the driver began cursing them incessantly and yelling. "As soon as we got out of the patrol car, he started shouting: 'you've gotta be volunteers, you're an embarrassment for the police! Why are you embarrassing me like that?!' When he finally calmed down enough to show his driver's license, I realized he was a police officer," says Shani. The two volunteers did not let the officer off the hook and proceeded to write him a ticket.
Some days later, the volunteers were summoned to a questioning by the public complaints officer of the traffic police, Chief Superintendent Nahum Boker.
"He showed us a letter filed by the policeman, who demanded the immediate cancelation of the ticket. The letter was packed full of lies about our conduct, and accompanied with photos of the bicycle rack showing the license plate. The only problem there was that the photos were clearly taken at night time, while the ticket was written in full daylight," Shani said.
He also claimed that a string of officers they approached to clear their names would not comment on their version of the events, and would not agree to hold clarification meetings.
Shani said he was eventually advised to lodge a complaint with the Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers. The complaint, however, led to the suspension of Shani himself and his fellow volunteer.
"The discipline department, which received your complaint from the department for the investigation of police officers, found that the writing of the ticket to the policeman was against the instructions of the traffic department on law enforcement during the holiday," a letter from the head of the community and police department, Maj. Gen. Uzi Rozen wrote. "The head of the traffic department decided to cancel the report, and found you were acting against the department's policy, which stated that during the holiday the department would focus on grave traffic violations."
Shani said the response was shameful, especially considering the nights and rainy days when they would fill in for regular policemen.
"The complete backup that policeman got shows me how dirty, even corrupt, the system is," he said. "What do they mean, we were acting against traffic department policy? Did they mean that when we see a policeman violating a traffic law and then cursing police volunteers like a thug, we should look the other way? There are values and principles at stake, and the only thing I find regretful is that my service at the police was terminated in such a way."
When the policeman was questioned by his commanders, he denied verbally assaulting the volunteers, and claimed it was them who shouted at him, and later sat down in their patrol car with their windows rolled up, refusing to listen. He did, confess, however, that the pictures showing the bicycle rack appropriately positioned were taken hours after the event.
The Justice Ministry spokesperson said on behalf of the department for the investigation of police officers that the complaint was forwarded to the police disciplinary department.
Superintendent Yigal Habesor, spokesman for the traffic department, said in response that the two volunteers were removed following a professional inquiry by commanding officers in the department and beyond.
"The removal followed the disgraceful and disorderly conduct of the volunteers, including threats and outbursts toward command," Habesor's statement read.
"Quite apart from this disciplinary process, we should stress the ticket in question was handed despite the incident meeting criteria for issuing a warning only, since the volunteer did not check the policeman's details in the computer system as requested. The ticket was also handed out in contradiction to the holiday enforcement policy. Considering the above, attempting to connect the incident of the ticket with the removal of the volunteers is unfounded, and any publication so implying will constitute a motive to file a libel suit against the newspaper and the reporter."