Police Report Rejects Most of Criticism Over Handling of Tel Aviv Shooting

Police say they must cooperate better with the Shin Bet security service and improve their call-center operations, after the January 1 shootings that killed three.

Police search a wooded area of northern Tel Aviv for Nashat Melhem, the presumed perpetrator of the Jan.1 shooting on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street, on Jan. 4, 2016. The photograph shows three police officers, guns drawn, climbing a grassy hill with trees in the background.
Moti Milrod

A lack of coordination between the police and the Shin Bet security service, as well as obsolete technology in the police emergency call centers, indeed affected the police response to the January 1 shooting that killed two people in Tel Aviv, the police said in a report Sunday.

But the report rejects much of the other criticism of the police's response to the attack, committed by 29-year-old Nashat Melhem. After fleeing the scene, Melhem shot and killed a taxi driver in north Tel Aviv and then remained at large for a week before being killed in a shoot-out in his hometown of Arara in the north.

The report addresses the phone call received by the police from a resident reporting that two employees had seen the terrorist riding a bus to Wadi Ara a few hours after the attack – a call that was mishandled and the information never passed on to investigators. According to the report, that information would not have influenced the search much, because forces had already been sent to Arara when the call was made.

This response, however, ignores the fact that police knew for sure that Melhem was in Arara only four days after the attack. The forces sent to Arara earlier on were sent to extract information from relatives and acquaintances, not to search for Melhem. In other words, the call, when it was made, could have indeed supplied police with important information.

According to the investigation, an intelligence officer tried to make contact with the caller, but he didn’t answer, and since the officer called from a concealed number, the caller could not call back.

There was significant criticism regarding the information given to the public while the search for Melhem proceeded. For days, as police were searching the streets, at times with guns drawn, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich refused to allow senior officers to be interviewed and allowed only limited information to be released.

In the report, the police do not see this as a significant flaw.

“There were no gaps found in the information that would have been proper to make accessible to the public during the week of the chase,” the police say.

“The investigation was conducted under a gag order, and at the points at which because of public considerations (which were set above investigative considerations) it was deemed proper to reduce [the gag order], a court was approached and the gag order was reduced with its permission.”

The police agree that changes are needed in their spokesman's office, but that these were already being set in motion before the attack took place by Alshiech, who had become commissioner only a month before.

“Even though [the changes] will take a few months to gradually implement ...  they will receive high organizational priority in terms of recruitment and appointments,” the police say.

Another issue addressed was the coordination between police and the Shin Bet. Police complained about this from the start of the search for Melhem, saying communication between the field agents and police was poor.

The report supports this claim. “Because of the numerous interfaces, methods of operations were at times cumbersome,” the report says. “There were discussions at the highest levels of both organizations, but things remained there and didn’t necessarily reach the officers in the various districts.”

The report also addresses complaints about the emergency call centers, and concedes that there were technological faults that had to be addressed.

“Because of gaps in the technological infrastructure there is no flow of information between all the call centers, and there is no way to see the reports from a different call center," the police say.

"This has the potential to cause confusion, particularly in scenarios that cross districts. This issue is being dealt with at two levels, the development of the future call center, and in the meantime, a 'first-aid' response to creating a better flow in the current system.”

For two days the police prohibited the publishing of Melhem’s picture in the media  because they were not certain whether Melhem or his brother was the suspect.

The report says that because Melhem’s picture was already being circulated through unofficial channels, the delay in giving the official go-ahead to release it “had no operational cost (and in fact reports were received based on the [unofficially distributed] picture).”