Only One Percent of Israeli Policemen Who Commit Disciplinary Offenses Are Prosecuted

A report obtained by Haaretz shows the police are forgiving toward policemen, only rarely punishing them

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, July 16, 2018
Moti Milrod

A recent report from the comptroller of the Public Security Ministry has revealed a harsh disagreement between Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich concerning how disciplinary offenses are handled inside the Israel Police.

The report gives the police a very low grade for handling such infractions and shows that only 1 percent of police officers who committed disciplinary offenses were ever put on trial by the internal police disciplinary court.

In most of these cases, the officers were never punished and their commanders made do with their filling out an “explanatory report,” an act which has no practical implications.

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Alsheich and the head of the police’s manpower division, Maj. Gen. Gila Gaziel, have implemented a policy of leniency toward police officers who have committed disciplinary offense, states the report, which Haaretz obtained. It was written by the Comptroller and Head of Public Complaints of the Public Security Ministry, David Cohen, who also serves in the same role for the police.

Alsheich’s lenient attitude and his disregard for Erdan’s instructions on the matter were one of the main points of disagreement between the two. Erdan recently announced that he would not extend Alsheich’s term for a fourth year.

Erdan wanted to take a much harsher stance in disciplinary matters and place it at the top of the agenda. In comparison, Alsheich believed that education and training were a better solution, and punishment should only be imposed in the most extreme cases. In interviews Erdan gave after announcing he would not extend Alsheich’s tenure, he mentioned discipline within the police as one of the most important issues the next police commissioner will have to deal with.

Three years ago, the police established a unit to carry out oversight of all police units, down to the level of a police station, to identify disciplinary problems – in response to a list of embarrassing incidents before Alsheich took office. The report relates to 2017 and 2018 and shows that the new supervisory unit conducted only one review of a unit per year, instead of the two that were originally planned. It conducted no surprise visits and notified the unit being inspected well in advance.

Most of the examination concerned the appearance and uniforms of police officers, and even though it was meant to follow up on the actions of officers in the field, it never examined matters such as their treatment of civilians or parking violations.

The oversight unit gave an overall score of 64 for discipline in the units inspected, with the lowest score going to the investigations and intelligence unit. In addition, half of the noncommissioned officers responsible for discipline in the units do not deal with such matters in practice, but are busy with other responsibilities. The repost quotes Alsheich as saying the disciplinary NCOs should not be acting like disciplinary sergeant majors in the army.

Punishment is almost completely absent for disciplinary violations, and in 81 percent of the hundreds of cases during the period examined in the report, police officers who committed such violations were only asked to write a report explaining their actions. In 17 percent of the cases, the police officers underwent a “warning interview,” and in only 1 percent of the cases did commanders take disciplinary action.

Gaziel has previously admitted the police avoid imposing punishment for disciplinary infractions, as part of its policy to favor education over punishment.

A number of senior police officers have said that if disciplinary sanctions are not taken against officers, discipline in the organization will remain lax. A senior law enforcement official told Haaretz that the approach of Alsheich and Gaziel concerning disciplinary infractions – and even criminal violations – is “lenient and even permissive.” Only in very exceptional and extreme cases do the police take real action against officers who have transgressed, he added. In most cases, the officers are given support and their offenses are ignored, which in turn harms citizens’ trust in the police.

The police rejected the claims that they were lenient on disciplinary issues, saying the report does not relate to the ethical behavior of police officers. The data reported by Haaretz does not reflect the matters examined in the report and mix together unrelated issues, said the police's response.

“The report only dealt with the matter of policing and practices, attire, order and cleanliness; a matter handled by the disciplinary noncommissioned officers in the organization and it has no relation whatsoever to the personal discipline of the police officer in the area of ethics, a matter in which Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich has created a deep ethical revolution immediately upon taking up his post,” said the police.

No other organization has such high ethical standards as the police, and even though a small number of exceptional cases are dealt with on a disciplinary level, such cases are rare, said the police. As for the oversight unit, it is now conducting two sets of inspections.

The Public Security Ministry said it does not comment in the media on internal reports.