Murder Rate in Israel Up More Than 25 Percent From Last Year

Former senior police officials say the trend is likely to continue

FILE PHOTO: Israel Police officers at the scene of a crime.
Ilan Assayag

Murders in Israel are up 27 percent in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year. Fifty-five people have been victims of criminal killings from January to May, compared to 43 people during the same months of 2016.

Former senior police officials believe that under Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s plan to focus police attention community policing, this trend will likely continue.

Although 2017 is almost half over, the police have not yet released their full 2016 report on crime statistics and the work the police have done to combat crime. This makes it impossible to determine whether there is improvement or not in many areas (like the murder rate against women, murder related to criminal organizations or the murder rate among the Arab population). But the year-on-year murder statistics which are available don’t bode well.

The murder statistics from previous years aren’t segmented by month, but taking averages of the annual totals show that they, too, are lower for the first five months of those years. Using these averages, there were only 45 murders in the first five months of 2015, 49 in 2014 and 47 in 2013.

Police sources and former police officials put the blame on Alsheich’s work plan, which calls on station commanders to focus on local issues and to determine the station’s priorities based on surveys taken of the residents in the area. They said they had warned this could lead to an increase in serious crimes.

Alsheich announced his plan at the start of 2016, calling on all police stations to take surveys in malls and downtown areas to hear from residents what they wanted to get from their local police station.

In most cities the residents raised the same complaints – young people riding electric bikes; noise complaints; road accidents; parking problems and property crimes. Each station commander got the four top issues raised by local residents and the police developed a special computer program for him that allows him to measure the station’s achievements in these areas at any given time.

The problem, police sources said, is that the station commanders have become overly focused on what the program is telling them about their progress in the objectives set for them, since they know their superiors are using this as a measure of their performance. Meanwhile, other issues, like murders, other violence, and monitoring individuals suspected of criminal involvement are being neglected.

In April 2016, an officer with the police’s special patrol unit (Yasam) tried to warn of the consequences of the new policy. “For the past two weeks we’ve been working on enforcement against those riding electric bikes,” he told Haaretz. “A resident is interested in not having traffic jams on the way to work, or not having noise in the park. The problem is that in the survey, no one complained about extortion, drug dealing, fraud, or enforcement against elements involved in more serious crimes. We’re missing things.”

A former senior police officer said, “You can’t ignore serious crime at the station level. Many large investigations and the early work on some of the most important cases began with work done at the station. It’s not right to focus the station commander on work more suited to municipal inspectors.”

There are senior police officers who said that despite the higher number of murders, it’s too early to know if it’s a trend. They believe the new system of being responsive to residents’ needs is proving itself, but as noted, it is difficult to know without a release of the 2016 summary report.

The police responded to this report, saying "In 2016, the number of murders in Israel was the lowest in the last decade. Unfortunately, prevention of murder isn't always possible, specifically when the murder is committed by an individual with no early warning signs, and sometimes by murderers who have no criminal history."