Botched Handling of Kidnap Call Reflects Systemic Police Hotline Failure

Key criticism of 2013 report was that hotlines are largely staffed by young people doing compulsory military service who have little to no experience and no training.

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Police answer calls at the Tel Aviv police hotline call center, May, 2012.
Police answer calls at the Tel Aviv police hotline call center, May, 2012.

Inexperience, lack of training and failure to follow procedure – these were just some of the findings of a scathing report on the performance of police hotlines presented to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino back in June 2013. Yet these failures were seemingly evident in the handling of the call from the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last Thursday.

The 2013 report, authored by Brig. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Segev, examined the performance of emergency hotlines throughout the country. A key criticism was that the hotlines are largely staffed by young people doing their compulsory military service who have little to no experience. And, in some cases, no training.

The first report about last Thursday's kidnapping was received at about 10:30 P.M. by a police officer doing compulsory service, who mishandled it. As a result, hours passed before the relevant forces in the field knew anything about the abduction.

Segev’s report found a failure to follow mandated procedures. Last week, hotline staffers thought the kidnapping call was a prank, but procedure requires that, in such cases, they search to see whether the phone number from where the suspected prank call was placed is on a police blacklist. If not, the call is to be taken at face value, but that did not happen on Thursday.

Also, if the call did not originate from a known prank caller, an effort must be made to discover who the phone number belongs to.

The 2013 report also found serious problems with the way people manning the hotlines are managed by their commanders. Sometimes, there is also a shortage of manpower. Police officers reportedly don’t want to work on the police hotline because of the heavy workload. Sometimes they are sent to work there for a brief period as a disciplinary measure. The manpower crunch leads to an even heavier workload, which leads to fatigue and lack of concentration.

The report also found flaws in the way the police hotlines interact with other official bodies. Although it examined coordination with municipal hotlines, not the IDF or Shin Bet security service, the findings may be indicative of possible problems in that area as well. The report found that when the Israel Police wants to contact a city hotline, it dials 106 like any other citizen and has to wait for its call to be answered.

A police spokesman responded: “The report and its findings are familiar, and refer to 2012. Things are different now – manpower now consists mainly of regular police officers, there are workshops and special training for hotline staffers, and updated procedures. The technological systems have also been upgraded.”

Calls to police hotline, 2012

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