More than 93 percent of complaints against police officers sent to the Justice Ministry over the past three years have been closed without action or have simply not been investigated, the ministry says.
“The police are gradually acquiring characteristics of the police in South America,” MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) told Haaretz. “UItimately, there has to be a correlation between the number of complaints and the number of cases.”
Figures on complaints to the ministry's department that investigates the police have been released to Adalah, an Arab minority rights group, to comply with the Freedom of Information Law.
Adalah has processed a number of complaints in recent months. In November, B. L. said she had been pushed by a member of the riot police during a demonstration in Haifa.
She says she took a blow to the chest, fell to the ground and was kicked by policemen. The officers allegedly lifted her by the arms and legs, dropped her to the ground and dragged her by her legs to a police van.
In that demonstration, Fares Ali complained that he was knocked down and beaten by police. According to Ali, when they dragged him to the police van he fell, hurt his forehead and was beaten again.
In their complaints, Ladkani and Ali attached photos of injuries, but the Justice Ministry department told them their complaints would not be investigated. It gave no explanation.
According to the ministry, of the 11,282 complaints between 2011 and 2013, only 306 cases led to a criminal process – 2.7 percent – and 373 led to a disciplinary process – 3.3 percent. The rest were closed due to an alleged lack of evidence or a lack of public interest. Or they weren’t looked into.
Some senior police officers say the department simply prefers high-profile cases.
According to the department, in 2013 it closed 847 cases without an investigation after an examination into whether there was cause for an investigation.
Fully 1,104 cases were closed due to a lack of public interest. “The large number of cases closed for this reason is the most troubling part,” says attorney Gabi Lasky, who represented detainees during the social protests of 2011.
“It’s not clear who decides, or how to appeal such a decision. They don’t give you information because it’s only an examination, not an investigation.”
Many complaints mention the department’s failure to keep complainants informed during the process. Complainants allegedly are not invited to give their version of events. After three months, the complainant receives a response.
“I’ve seen a huge number of cases I think were closed without justification. Some were about ugly comments to women and unnecessary touching in a degrading way,” Lasky says.
“Daphni Leef was strip-searched. Why?” she added, referring to the social protest leader’s arrest in 2012. “That’s abuse of power. The whole world saw how she was injured during her arrest, but no police officers were put on trial. To this day we don’t even know if they opened an investigation.”
According to the department, 76 times over the past three years it had to close a case because it was not clear which officer was suspected. It’s not clear if the department used photos of police at the respective incidents, as is done with civilian suspects.
Policewomen have also been the subject of complaints. One evening in August 2012, Ilya Brebner and his girlfriend were walking in Jerusalem when a patrol car stopped beside them and a policewoman asked for their ID cards. His girlfriend didn’t have hers.
The policewoman allegedly called Brebner’s girlfriend “druggy,” “slut” and other names. “We asked the police a few times why we were being detained, but we got no answer,” Brebner says.
“The policewoman grabbed her arm and threw her to the ground. I told her to stop and several policemen jumped on me, cuffed me and pushed me into a police van violently.”
The two spent the night in jail and later filed a complaint with photos of their injuries. They repeatedly asked for information, and the case was closed three months later – the identity of the policewoman was allegedly not clear. They were not asked to view photos of police officers.
“The department has thousands of complaints and many of them are unjustified,” a former senior officer in the department says. “In many cases it’s the officer’s version versus the citizen’s. If the investigators have no evidence or witness, they tend to believe the policeman.”
In its report for 2013, the department says it received only 813 complaints. But the Justice Ministry’s figures cite 3,795 complaints. The department only counted the cases it investigated.
It’s not only common Israelis who have problems culling information from the department. On July 2 the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee discussed the issue of police violence at demonstrations, but the MKs could not get clear answers from the department’s representative.
“Many decisions are closed even when the police officer uses excessive force,” says attorney Aram Mahameed of Adalah. “This is strange and extremely worrying. Excessive use of force is a criminal offense, so a complaint requires an investigation.”
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