An Open Secret in the Police

The police are experiencing great difficulty in their battle against organized crime. It is no simple task to hunt whales and sharks. But the Israel Police comes up empty-handed even when it fishes for sardines.

Ever since Public Security Minister Avi Dichter entered his post, he has managed to confuse us: Does he support the police force as it is - degenerate - or does he seek to change it from the ground up? From his first day in office, Dichter has been promising to institute a reform - yet another reform - that would rehabilitate this ailing body. Since then, however, there has been a deterioration in the moribund patient's condition. Even the new police commissioner, David Cohen, who was appointed following the Zeiler Committee's report and the resignation of former commissioner Moshe Karadi, was no more than a default option in Dichter's eyes: The minister preferred someone else, but was forced to make do with Cohen.

It is an open secret that the police are experiencing great difficulty in their battle against organized crime. And in truth, this is a complicated battle, in which other police forces elsewhere in the world also have found themselves the underdog. It is no simple task to hunt whales and sharks. But the Israel Police comes up empty-handed even when it fishes for sardines. Even minnows escape its net. It is therefore no surprise that the citizens vote no confidence from outside and the policemen vote no confidence from inside, and these two no-confidence votes meet on the banks of Nahariya's Gaaton River.

In one recent survey, more than 60 percent of respondents said they no longer trust the police, and more than 80 percent identified with those guardians of the law who decided to take the law into their own hands outside of office hours. If even the policemen have despaired, what is left to be said by the wall that citizens run into when they go to their local police station?

With its own hands, the police have taken certain crimes that deeply affect our lives off the books in recent years. It is as if the commandment "Thou shall not steal" had been erased. If someone was lucky enough to be stabbed, his case might be investigated. There is a chance. But if he was so unlucky as to merely have been robbed, there is not even the pretense of an investigation. There is no chance. The breach is a clear signal to the thief, and we have no power to seal it. Nothing remains of the old phrase, "The thief is destined to be hanged," but a literary metaphor.

A disabled 95-year-old relative of mine left his car for a minute (yes, he still drives) in order to put a letter into the mailbox. As he was turning around, a thief knocked him down, started the car and disappeared. His cellular phone also disappeared with the car. The energetic senior citizen hastened to the police station and filed a complaint, but was swiftly told that there is not much the police can do.

As good citizens, my family tried to help. The thief, it turns out, is a communicative type; he managed to make about 20 phone calls on his peaceful way home, until the line went dead. So we asked the telephone company for the list of his calls, and received it. I then called a senior district police officer, boasted to him of our sophisticated detective work and sent him all the material. I am still waiting for a response.

Another relative had his apartment broken into in broad daylight, while he and his family were enjoying a Friday afternoon nap. He called the police, told them what had been taken and asked for help: It seemed to him that the thieves had left footprints and fingerprints, so a diligent policeman could be of use. The sleepy duty officer - he, too, deserves a nap - responded that his colleagues would come only two days later, on Sunday. And even that he would not promise, lest someone accuse him of breaking his word.

A third relative - what's been happening to my family recently? - had the truck with which he earns a living stolen. In this case, too, his cell phone entered the picture. My relative dialed it, and to his surprise, someone answered. For a fistful of shekels, the thief would gladly return the lost object. They set a time and place, and the truck's owner invited the police to accompany him. Perhaps such a joint effort could strengthen the rule of law. The police responded that they already had their hands full, and in any case, they do not accompany people to meetings with criminals.

Woe to the nation whose citizens are better guardians of the law than its policemen!

We can only shudder as we imagine to what depths we would have sunk without the minister's reform: Dichter's police might have announced a decision on Ehud Olmert's case on the very day of the premier's prostate operation.