City Cops vs. Policing Cities - It's Not Just Semantics

Police Commissioner David Cohen repeatedly has problems explaining to the public his position on the proposed establishment of municipal police forces. He seems to be the only one who differentiates between "municipal police" and "municipal policing."

During a tour of police stations in Beit She'an and Migdal Ha'emek on Monday, he said that "a municipal police force could harm democracy if ... local authorities at one time or another are investigated. We need municipal policing under the authority of station commanders - policemen whose main role would be linked to the quality of life of a given city. This would be a significant force multiplier for us, and it's a national necessity."

Cohen says the difference between the two terms is large: Municipal police represent a body made up of municipal inspectors and private security guards who would have some police authority and operate like a genuine police force. On the other hand, the municipal policing Cohen supports means that officers would be "full-fledged policemen entrusted with handling violations of quality-of-life [regulations]."

Cohen is considered the staunchest opponent of the creation of municipal police forces. The danger in such forces, he says, is that they would become "private police." And it is inconceivable that people who have not been trained as policemen could make arrests and work as full-fledged policemen, he adds.

Cohen also worries that his control over such organizations would be limited and that a mayor should not have the capability to use the police to promote his own standing.

On the other hand, Cohen favors the establishment of what he calls a municipal policing system. It would comprise professional policemen, mostly young people, who would be recruited especially for this force and serve under the commander of the local police, who would consult with the mayor.

In the end, the distinction will also be reflected in the police budget. Cohen wants to take advantage of the interest the prime minister's office and Finance Ministry have shown in forming municipal police, so that the police get the large budgets earmarked for this project and not the local authorities or private companies. He wants the recruited manpower to increase the number of policemen under his command.

Cohen said on Monday that "crime must be coped with at the national level. Otherwise, within a few years, it will become a strategic threat to the State of Israel." He described the police as "Israeli society's emergency ward." He said he was not shirking his responsibility for the police's role but that Israel had to beef up "the entire chain of law enforcement in the state" in order to strengthen society in general.