It Isn't the Crooks, It's the Budget

Top police officers shrug while National Security Minister Avi Dichter flails about with his overhaul of the Israel Police's top echelon. Dichter explains that he wants to shake up the organization, and says the entire uppermost stratum including police commissioner Moshe Karadi must go, because his directives for changing police conduct have not been executed.

The report from Justice Vardi Zeiler, who headed the inquiry into police conduct, was no earthquake in police circles. It was just one more voice in a chorus.

The police force is only about half the size it needs to be to effectively fight crime. The public acknowledged its and the army's resolve and sensitivity in handling the evacuees from Gaza, and even before the disengagement, people generally showed understanding for the claim that fighting crime gets neglected because of the need to handle the waves of suicide bombers.

But as the terrorism abated and the disengagement process ended, and the police stood there alone against a rising wave of crime, citizens began to feel frustrated. The flabby arm of the law barely interferes with the crime gangs. Rapist Benny Sela escapes from jail and now this affair with the Parinians: the people are losing their faith in the
police. Neither was not the fault of the police's understaffing.

The police tried to field spokespeople (helped by a PR agency, Shalmor-Sherf). Karadi and his people knew that PR wouldn't save them from the Zeiler commission, which looked into police misconduct in the investigation of Pinhas Bouhbout's murder in 1999. But if the spokespeople hadn't failed to persuade the people that the problems were pinpoint ones, not systemic, the minister probably wouldn't have received support for his initiative to fire the commissioner and downgrade his deputy.

But no PR mission could have changed the police's image. The police tried to direct the spotlight to places where advances have been made: its budget has increased, car theft has been depressed thanks to working closely with insurance companies, and its white-collar crime unit has been marking up successes. Also, the police can take pride in its conduct during the second Lebanon war. As the prime minister's office and security system simply succumbed to shock, the police force became a crucial crutch for citizens in the danger zone, even when all other services had ground to a halt.

None of which helps when a TV reporter visits the Tel Aviv central headquarters and finds that it has only 30 police cars on duty, on the average evening, trying to handle the 700 calls remaining open. Each day hundreds of people are attacked by thieves, criminals, rapists and murderers, and there's very little chance of attracting the attention of a police officer who might help. The police has long stopped even the pretence of sending a cop to visit burglarized homes: there's nobody to handle an investigation anyway.

Dichter won't be able to stop the crime spree, nor can whatever Rambo he's planning to appoint in Karadi's stead - unless the police's budget is doubled from its present NIS 6.4 billion a year, or 2% of the national budget. Dichter probably knows it, too. Certainly all the top policemen do, especially the ones that adamantly refuse to be Israel's next police commissioner.