Is Being a Policeman a Profession?

Dichter, in ignoring the court's condemnation of Ganot's conduct and the disciplinary ruling against him, brushed aside the lesson in the resignation of Rafi Peled as police chief.

Senior officers in the Israel Police were insulted not by the decision of Minister Avi Dichter to appoint police Lieutenant General Yaakov Ganot as their new chief -they would have felt equally insulted by the selection of any other general. They were upset with the justification for the decision: None of the current major generals was worthy of the post.

Dichter, in ignoring the court's condemnation of Ganot's conduct and the disciplinary ruling against him, brushed aside the lesson in the resignation of Rafi Peled as police chief, and the decision of then minister Shlomo Ben-Ami not to appoint Major General Yair Yitzhaki in his place. The Supreme Court had this to say about Peled: "The chief of police must be an example to all officers. He must have the moral and personal authority to convince, to lead and to order. A chief of police who receives illicit benefits will find it difficult to demand and enforce on his subordinates a prohibition against such benefits. That which he has desecrated will make it difficult for him to demand that it be consecrated by his subordinates." Referring to Yitzhaki, who got mixed up in the Nimrodi affair and was exonerated in a disciplinary trial, then attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein told Ben-Ami that "the ethical stain" that has stuck to him may disqualify him according to the Supreme Court standard.

Criticism outside of police circles see similarities in the cases of Ganot and Peled and Yitzhaki, and in the reasons for which Commissioner Moshe Karadi was forced to resign following the Zeiler report. Inside the police, criticism focuses more on the way Dichter, on his own, selected Karadi's successor. Initially he rejected all the major generals, and topping the list was a deputy chief of police, Benny Kaniak. Dichter also sought to recruit a replacement from a pool of retired army generals. When the minister was disappointed to discover the retired army men had no interest in the senior police job, he brought into the picture a policeman who was prison warden, in the form of Ganot, with all his faults.

The response of the police major generals is no inherent reason to feel pity for them. Three years earlier they benefited from the sense of discrimination perceived by their predecessors, who were upset with Karadi's appointment. Three veteran major generals resigned then and a fourth, Miki Levy, who is Dichter's candidate for Ganot's deputy, was exiled to Washington. This is also a puzzling, loveless match: when Levy was commander of the Jerusalem district, and Ganot was in charge of the Border Police, a serious dispute developed between them over the Jerusalem envelope.

But in one central matter the disgruntled officers are right. The one who rejects everyone out of hand and prefers those with a defense background, is not saying merely that the organization is broken or susceptible to negative influences, and that it must be rebuilt from the outside, but also that the senior police officers are not professionals in what they do. The first part of this statement can, during times of crisis, be correct. It is obvious that much in the police requires correction. The complicated administrative structure of regions, districts and the National Headquarters are like sacks of potatoes thrown all over - with stations, the patrol units and detectives - making them slow, clumsy and helpless, like the officers who escorted and lost serial rapist Benny Sela. The second half of the statement is part of Dichter's simplistic and biased view, that of someone who did not bother to study, in depth, the material during his nine months as minister of public security.

Is police work a profession? If so, is the status of a policeman similar to that of a professional like a nurse, or that of a practitioner of a liberal trade, like a doctor? This issue has preoccupied criminologists and sociologists, including some who were formerly employed by the Israel Police, who write about educational requirements, training, initiative and independence and the limits of morality. And if being a policeman is a profession, he must then be managed by professionals in his field.

Dichter complained that his instructions were not carried out, but Karadi and Kaniak headed an orderly process of staff work toward the implementation of the instructions. Part of this effort was carried out through the "lieutenants forum" in the various districts and sections. The question that remains is whether it is a good thing to transfer the handling of detained suspects to the care of the Prison Service, for the sake of efficiency, or whether this taints the evidence collected during questioning.

Dichter used the word "combat," suggesting he does not understand the difference between the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, which focus on enemies, and the Israel Police, which lives among its citizens, prevents crime mostly through deterrence and depends for its operational and budgetary existence on the legal, political, public and communal collective. This requires neither a border police for civilians, nor a softened Shin Bet, but the professional management of a professional police force.