Bill Would Give Cops New Stop-and-search Powers

The growing number of stabbings in public areas has prompted the state's top legal officials to propose legislation authorizing police officers to conduct body searches even of individuals who are not suspected of involvement in any crime.

Currently, the police can only search a person if there is a reasonable suspicion that he is carrying a weapon, or if there is some evidence of wrongdoing by that individual.

The proposed amendment, drafted by the Justice Ministry at the behest of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, would give police officers greater leeway to search potential suspects in an effort to prevent violence.

If amendment is approved, surprise searches would be permitted in designated areas, including hospitals and medical clinics, educational institutions, restaurants, nightclubs and bars, sports facilities, movie theaters and music halls.

The new measure would also empower the district police chief to declare any public venue that is hosting a recreational activity, like a concert, disco or dance show, to be an area where police are permitted to conduct body searches on anyone present.

Dr. Yoav Sapir, the deputy head of the Public Defender's Office, is convinced that the revision is unnecessary, since in 2005, a law was already passed that allowed searches of any individual entering certain types of establishments, such as nightclubs.

"What separates a liberal state from a police state is that in a liberal state, it is not permissible to harass an individual and invade his privacy without any suspicion that he did something wrong," Sapir said. "In a police state, [the authorities] can descend on whomever they wish and invade their privacy. Granting the police powers to body-search an individual without reasonable suspicion is an invitation to discrimination, particularly against weaker segments of the population, whose privacy will obviously be more easily infringed on."

Two requests for permission to appeal are currently pending before the Supreme Court over the issue of whether police can search an individual without reasonable suspicion, even if that individual gave his consent. Both were submitted by the Public Defender's Office.

The Israel National Council for the Child expressed concern yesterday that the proposed amendment would unfairly target minors.

"It started with installing cameras in schools and classrooms, it continued with security guards being able to search children's schoolbags, and now we are talking about police searches," said the council's executive director, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman. "And children are the group whose rights are most easily violated."