The top brass of the Israel Police gathered last Monday morning in the Lod headquarters of Lahav 443, the police unit tasked with fighting corruption and organized crime. The festive event, attended by hundreds of police officers, celebrated the entry of Maj. Gen. Menashe Arbiv into his new position as head of Lahav.
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“At the beginning of my speech, I want to comment on the report of the Public Defender’s [Office] that was released this morning,” said Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino.
The document, published a few hours earlier, depicted 2012 as a year of arrests: 62,291 in total. It was the highest number of arrests the police had made in the last decade and 4,000 more than in 2011, when the police arrested 57,800 people.
“I see the report as reinforcing the goals of the turnaround plan to increase both deterrence and the liklihood that the criminal will be caught,” said Danino. The report, he added, supported the police’s view that 2012 was the worst year yet for criminals. “The rights of the suspect are important. The rights of the victim and the civil right to personal security are no less important,” said the commissioner.
But Danino did not comment on another figure in the report: Most of the arrests never resulted in an indictment.
Since Danino was appointed commissioner in May 2011, he has continually repeated the phrase: “We have increased the chances of the criminal being caught.” It is included in almost every speech he gives. An uninformed listener would certainly praise such a goal, but a more critical examination of the data, as well as of specific cases that reach the courts and jails, reveals that not just the chances of the criminal being caught have grown. The chance of each and every Israeli citizen finding himself or herself in jail has risen to a degree that should worry all of us.
The change did not result from Danino’s new phrase, no matter how many times he repeats it. The reasons are much deeper - a real change in thinking. At a conference of police officers in Jerusalem last December, Danino said there were some 12,000 criminals in prison and under arrest - and that the police had added 3,000 new criminals to the number in the previous year. The head of the Israel Prisons Service had told him, Danino added, that unless new budgets were found, there would no longer be room in the prisons within half a year. The courts must add new judges, new prosecutors must be hired and the prisons must be expanded, Danino told his officers. “The first to benefit from these goals will be the citizens of Israel,” he said.
But the record shows a different picture.
On September 13 this year, police presented a Jerusalem court with a secret report on an alleged attempt to rob a pizza delivery man. The two suspects, a couple, were accused of ordering a pizza in order to rob the delivery man. One suspect, the male, denied the story completely, while the other, an 18-year-old woman, spilled her heart out to the police over several hours. But the male suspect’s lawyer provided evidence that surprised the court: The woman is known to the welfare authorities as being mentally challenged. She was not married to her supposed husband and in the past had filed several false charges of sexual harassment. Parts of her story were clearly fabricated, such as the children she claimed she had. The police, it transpired, had not bothered to check any of the details and based the charges on the woman’s stories. In addition, the pizza delivery man also said he was never robbed, threatened or even thought such a thing had happened.
In another case in Be’er Sheva, a 65-year-old man with diabetes was held overnight in a cell with drug addicts, drunks and other criminals because he had shouted at a bus driver the day before. The judge called it a classic case of unjustified arrest and released the man without any of the conditions the police demanded. The judge also ordered the commander of the police’s Southern District to look into the unacceptable way the police arrest people too easily and ask the court to remand them.
And in Netanya this month, police arrested a man whose wife claimed he attacked her. But the judge ruled that there was no reasonable basis to assume that the suspect had attacked the complainant, attempted to attack her or even threatened her – and released the husband unconditionally.
These three cases are only examples of arrests made this month. Haaretz has previously reported on a long list of dubious arrests, such as of a minor stealing a cigarette lighter, an attempt to steal a pair of jeans by a refugee and the theft of a pack of gum.
Yoav Sapir, head of the Public Defender’s Office, maintains that the police’s excessive use of arrest endangers Israeli society and causes contempt for civil freedoms. Danino says he wants to increase deterrence, so he increases both the number of arrests and the detention of suspects until the end of legal proceedings against them, said Sapir. But this is clearly illegal, he added. “In Israel, a person can be arrested only if he is a danger to the public or because of a fear of obstruction of justice. Arrests for the purpose of deterrence or punishment are forbidden, illegal and must worry every democratic society. The growth in arrests in Israel in the past two years and the statements coming from the police show they are using arrests for illegal purposes. I am not at all sure that the figures Danino presents proudly are a source of great pride,” said Sapir.
The Prisons Service is also unhappy with the trend of mass arrests, as most of those arrested spend one night in jail before being released by the court, either under limitations or with no conditions at all. Such arrests are a serious financial strain on the Prisons Service budget. Some senior Prisons Service officers are even talking of asking the Justice Ministry to aid in correcting the situation. One senior officer told Haaretz that it was unacceptable that every time the police conduct such a mass arrest operation, all those arrested are released the next day. “Someone must feed them, transport them and guard them and … some need to see a doctor. It is by no means certain that the attempt to deter using large numbers of arrests is correct. We must examine the results,” he said.