Police Chief: More Murders, Fewer Break-ins During 2009

Last year brought a rise in the murder rate, a decline in the number of break-ins, and a sharp increase - of dozens of percent - in the number of stone-throwing incidents in the West Bank. Police attributed the latter to the decision to remove numerous army checkpoints that had hindered Palestinian freedom of movement.

The checkpoint removal also led to a sharp increase in crime in Jewish settlements and in traffic accidents in the West Bank over the last six months, Police Commissioner David Cohen said at a press conference held today to announce the statistics.

And in addition, he said, the checkpoint removal has funneled terrorist activity into what is known as the Jerusalem envelope, meaning areas of the West Bank located near the capital. That is because "everyone that moves through the West Bank hits a checkpoint for the first time only when he reaches the police forces stationed in the Jerusalem envelope," Cohen said.

Cohen also revealed that the police are now operating along the Syrian border in an effort to halt smuggling and other cross-border crime.

Overall, police statistics show, crime fell by 3 percent last year. However, there were more murders - 135 in 2009, compared to 128 in 2008. Police said this rise stemmed partly from a few incidents that claimed more than one victim, like the murder in October of six members of the Oshrenko family in their Rishon Letzion home.

In contrast, Cohen said, the number of break-ins plunged by 30 percent as compared to 2006, car thefts dropped by 34 percent, and violent crime overall fell by 17 percent. All three areas had been targeted by the police back in 2006 for a special multi-year effort, which is why that year was used as a baseline for comparison.

Nevertheless, police failed to meet their own goal - a 40 percent drop in violent crimes. Moreover, the police figures refer only to crimes that were actually reported, and the reporting rate is notoriously low: One recent survey concluded that only some 43 percent of crimes are reported, a figure that has remained basically unchanged since 2001.

Police also said they were pleased with the progress of their war on organized crime. Of the 18 gang leaders they had identified as targets, 11 are now behind bars, along with dozens of their foot soldiers. However, Cohen said, the key to defeating organized crime lies in attacking the economic foundations of these gangs' activities. He therefore hoped that this year they would receive more cooperation from the tax authorities on this issue than they did in 2009.

The juvenile crime rate remained almost unchanged last year, with some 31,000 cases opened. Surprisingly, however, the number of violent crimes involving juveniles dropped by about 300, police said. In contrast, the number of juveniles caught carrying knives rose by 12.5 percent - but this was largely due to stepped-up police searches.

This year, Cohen said, in addition to continuing their multi-year effort to lower violent crime, police plan to focus on drug offenses, theft and the war on alcohol consumption, as well as reducing weapons offenses in the Arab sector. "I expect from myself, my officers and my policemen that 2010 will be an even better year," he said.