A state comptroller’s report on speed cameras has found a problem within Israel Police culture. High-ranking police officers routinely lie to get speeding tickets cancelled – their own and those of other policemen – the report alleges.
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Indictments were cancelled en masse in violation of proper procedures in order to meet work goals, the state comptroller also found, and describes attempts by the police to cover up the findings.
“The findings on this subject [of the speed cameras], on top of deficiencies in the police’s organizational culture found in previous reviews by the State Comptroller’s Office, and the affairs recently exposed to the public [involving sexual misconduct by a number of senior officers] paint a highly worrying picture of conduct by the police,” wrote State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.
The state comptroller looked into aspects of enforcing traffic laws and implementing the speed cameras project between June 2014 and February 2015, an inspection involving the police and Public Security Ministry.
The government had agreed to set up 300 digital speed cameras in July 2005. Two hundred were set up to catch speed violators and 100 were located to catch drivers running red lights.
The police, however, were not prepared to handle the system and found themselves unable to handle the flood of reports from the cameras. In its attempt to cope, the state comptroller found, the traffic division simply started arbitrarily voiding tickets and indictments on a massive scale (from 2012 to 2015, some 55,000 indictments for traffic violations were cancelled). It also doubled the speed that triggers the camera in order to reduce the number of tickets the system was producing.
Yet the worst part of the state comptroller’s report, the part likely to wind up at the police’s internal affairs department, is where tickets given to police officers were deleted. The comptroller found a culture of lying at all levels and ranks to get traffic tickets canceled. Put otherwise, the police systematically does not enforce violations proven by cameras to have been committed by other policemen.
The report touches on two incumbent commissioners who had headed the traffic division when the report was being compiled, under whose command the alleged violations took place: Yaron Beeri, still head of the traffic division, and Moshe Adari, now commander of the Tel Aviv District Police.
Under the law, the police have to obey the law, and must obey traffic laws except when the contingencies of duty demand otherwise – and even then, they must use the utmost caution. So if a traffic violation by a police car occurred outside duty, the police are supposed to identify the offender and assign the ticket to him or her personally.
Between 2012 and 2015, the police neglected to complete handling 1,337 of 2,777 tickets given to police vehicles (53 percent). Some reports were canceled ostensibly for lack of evidence or lack of public interest, which is against the rules.
Lying through their teeth
The state comptroller looked into cases in which senior officers claimed to be on duty when getting caught in a violation, and had their tickets canceled.
In most of the cases, the event to which the police were called ended within moments of starting, while the police commanders reported having to drive at high speed for 20-30 minutes. In one case, no police car at all was sent to an event that an officer claimed to have sped to; in some other cases, there was no evidence that the speeding officer had anything to do with handling the events.
One case that an on-duty officer claimed to have sped to involved the discovery of a car that had parked in a building’s parking lot – for a whole year. The event ended within one minute, with the griping citizen being told to complain to the municipality and have the car towed away. Moreover, the speed camera documented the officer in question tens of kilometers away. Yet his ticket was nullified.
In some other cases, tickets were downgraded to warnings, which is usually only done when the violator has no previous offenses. This norm was not adhered to in the case of offenders in uniform.
Cars driven by Israel Prison Service personnel also receive sweetheart treatment, reports the state comptroller. From April 2012 to February 2015, the speed cameras documented 215 offenses by Prison Service cars. These tickets have been left unhandled because the Prison Service refuses to disclose who was driving the cars, and many of the tickets have expired.
The state comptroller sums up that the police’s conduct in respect to handling traffic violations committed by their own reflects a “miserable picture” of systemic deficiencies, and tarnish the public’s faith in the police. “The state comptroller believes that enforcing the law within the police is also crucial to enforcing it on the public,” Shapira wrote.
The police are supposed to adhere to a higher moral standard precisely in order to enforce the law on others. Neglecting to handle about 1,400 traffic tickets given to cops driving police cars does not meet that criterion, and Shapira thinks the police commissioner should look into how that pile was allowed to grow, and how other speed tickets were canceled.
As for the overload caused by unpreparedness, from 2012 to 2015, some 55,000 indictments for traffic offenses (to all people) were voided. Some, from before the speed cameras project, simply expired. The main reason for the cancellations is the amateurishness and inefficiency of the traffic prosecution, says the state comptroller; thousands of indictments pile up each year and no trial dates are set for them because the legal system is not functioning properly.
At the start of February 2015, there were 17,160 outstanding indictments for traffic violations for which no trial date had been set, a state of affairs that tends to lead to the tickets’ ultimate cancelation. The outcome is inequality before the law and inefficiency in enforcement, not to mention waste of resources involved in issuing all those indictments, wrote the state comptroller.
Ultimately, the police spent about 100 million shekels on establishing and operating the speed cameras system, which was designed in part to issue indictments in a timely manner. But the courts and police were unprepared to deal with the deluge, impairing the efficiency of the project, Shapira concluded.