If you went strolling in Jerusalem’s Old City in recent days, besides Border Police men and Yasam special patrol units, you could find officers from the National Fraud Unit, who rather than investigating financial improprieties at the Prime Minister’s Residence or the Yisrael Beiteinu corruption scandal, were out guarding pedestrians.
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And they weren’t the only unusual sight. Near the Western Wall there were officers from the Serious Crimes Unit, who recently hauled in a bunch of organized-crime suspects in the 512 affair. And not far from there, on Hagai Street, there were cops from the Tel Aviv area.
Amid all the attacks in Jerusalem, police reinforcements have been dispatched to the capital from every police unit. This comes at a cost: Anything not defined as life or death is being put on hold, including some very complex fraud and corruption investigations. Officials admit they have to weigh each investigation in light of the situation.
In the coming days, the police are due to conclude their corruption investigation into Avidgor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party and submit their findings to the state prosecutor. This will go ahead, but things are taking longer than normal due to the need to wait for the detectives and team leaders to return to their units.
All units are working 12-hour shifts, with the emphasis on the most urgent matters. The burden falls on a modest number of detectives for the matters that can’t be postponed.
“If I receive information about a man who is a serial pedophile and harming minors, I can’t not launch an investigation. I have to stop him. Nor can I ignore other situations where there’s a concern that people will be hurt. We’re still able to deal with such things,” one cop says.
“We’re not at the point where the police can’t respond to urgent incidents, I think we’re very from that actually. But there is a willingness to wait with cases where the sky won’t fall if we don’t get to them for a few weeks.”
Not long ago, the police arrested two major mob bosses, Amir Mulner and Shalom Domrani. Normally this would have remained a big news story, but now it’s out of the headlines.
“So far we’ve been able to keep up with the work, but I can tell you that if I have cases that aren’t urgent and can be put off, I’ll do that,” says the commander of a unit that works on serious crime. “The problem is what happens if this situation keeps going and officers from my unit are taken away for a longer stretch.”
Another issue for the police districts is the sheer number of issues due to the recent events. While priority is being given to the most serious incidents, there has been a big rise in the total number of incidents.
Last week (from Monday to Monday), the police hotline received 180,000 calls, about 40,000 more than it would receive in an average week before the wave of terror attacks. Just yesterday there were 30,330 calls to the hotline, and officers were dispatched to 9,569 different events.
There has been a 500-percent rise in reports of suspicious persons, and a 200-percent rise in reports of rock-throwing. Last week the police had to handle 6,000 reports of suspicious persons, when normally they would only receive 1,000 such calls.
“Each day begins with checkpoints on the main traffic arteries leading to the big cities. After dozens of officers have spent hours checking anyone they believe deserves inspection, we shift to the construction sites,” says one district commander.
“Normally we would carry out a raid in search of illegals once every couple of weeks, but now we comb all the construction sights and other locations where they might be staying every morning and evening and make arrests when needed. The owners and contractors are also brought in for questioning, so it takes up a lot of time and manpower.”
With the exception of the Jerusalem district police, though, most police work throughout the country is still dedicated to routine events such as domestic violence, disputes between neighbors, brawls and threats. Not to mention security at events like soccer games, concerts and demonstrations.
“We had a huge increase just over the weekend in the number of calls we responded to,” says another district commander. “I have to heed the call. When a person dials the police hotline, he wants to see a patrol car show up. He wants to see that someone is responding to his fears. It’s clear that every day now we’re having to prioritize our work, because everyone knows that daily security takes precedence now.”
So now the Tel Aviv district police have assigned more cars as patrol cars, to be able to provide a faster response and nip false rumors in the bud.
“Even with this situation, the public will not be forgiving if there is another case like that of Gadi Wichman of Be’er Sheva in which his wife called the police but they only showed up after the murder. It won’t be forgiven if a woman pays with her life because we didn’t show up in time when she was threatened with violence,” says one police official.
“The police have 30,000 officers, no matter what the security situation is or how much work there is. That’s what we have and that’s what we work with, and up to now we’ve done an excellent job of meeting our assignments.”
A Tel Aviv police official adds: “The officers’ motivation is sky-high. People are coming in early for their shifts and volunteering to work overtime. People are eager to get to Jerusalem and take part in the effort there. There’s a feeling of pride in the organization and you can see how willing the officers are to give of themselves.”