Israeli Policemen Say Public Should Not Determine Their Priorities

New commissioner’s emphasis on local policing is erroneous, say officers, because fighting crime is more important than directing traffic.

Police search scene of possible stabbing at Ahim Yisrael mall in Jerusalem's Talpiot industrial zone.
Olivier Fitoussi

Policemen are unhappy with a new program that bases each police station’s work goals on the issues that most concern local residents, claiming it turns them into little more than municipal inspectors and will ultimately result in increased crime.

After taking office in December, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich decided that local police stations should be the focal points of police work, and that officers at the district and sub-district level should serve the local stations rather than vice versa. As part of this decision, he had questionnaires distributed to residents of each city asking them to rank the policing issues that most concerned them.

After the questionnaires were returned, police compiled a list of the 16 crimes that most bothered ordinary people. The list was then distributed to each district, and local stations were told to focus on the three issues ranked highest by the people in their area.

Both senior officers and ordinary policemen said this sounded like a good idea at first, because dealing with the issues that most concerned ordinary people would increase public trust in the force. But they changed their mind when they saw the actual list.

In most cities, the top-ranked issue was the rush-hour traffic jam at the city’s exits and entrances every weekday morning and evening. Other highly-ranked issues included electric bicycles, illegal parking, karaoke and trash. All of these, police said, are issues that can and should be dealt with by municipal inspectors and don’t require trained policemen.

“For the past two weeks, we’ve been working on the issue of enforcing the law against electric bicycle riders,” one police officer complained. “We’ve been standing along a major artery in one city enforcing the issue and chasing after 14-year-old boys who ride on the sidewalk.”

The program was supposed to give people the feeling that the police is working for them. But the fact that the force’s attention is being diverted from dealing with more serious crimes will ultimately harm the ordinary person, police argued. In fact, they said, they have already seen a rise in drug trafficking and agricultural crimes

“The ordinary person is interested in not having a traffic jam on the way to work and not having noise in his garden,” a senior officer explained. “The problem is that nobody wrote extortion, drug trafficking, fraud [on the list] ... and here, we’re missing things.”