Police spokespeople have refrained from reporting rapes and other sex crimes to the media over the past two weeks in an effort to improve the police’s image, sources in the spokesperson’s unit said.
The sources explained that the spokesperson’s unit has been asked to emphasize “the positive aspects” of police activity. They also said the unit has been told, by both Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, to focus media attention on a few key issues: Palestinians who are in the country illegally, confiscation of illegal weaponry in the Arab community and the discovery of drug stashes.
“These orders went down to all the districts, to all the spokesperson’s divisions, and our daily work is focused on that,” one source said. “Therefore, all other issues are naturally pushed aside and become less important.”
Other police sources said spokespeople are refraining from reporting sex crimes in particular to avoid creating unnecessary fear at a time when many children and teens are on vacation.
The failure to publicize such incidents could impede the search for other victims of the same sexual predators.
Police sources, including some in the spokesperson’s unit, said that ever since Merav Lapidot took over as the police’s chief spokeswoman in February, the unit has taken a new approach: doing public relations for the police, nurturing its reputation and creating a suitable media climate for the goals set by the police commissioner and the public security minister. Sources in the spokesperson’s unit said that in the past, these goals never came at the expense of providing vital information to the public or honoring the public’s fundamental right to information.
Erdan and Lapidot rejected on Wednesday morning the claims that police spokespeople were instructed to release statements that are beneficial to the police's activities and not to report certain topics.
Almost every day, police spokespeople send multiple statements to the media. Monday's statements, for instance, included a notice about five people arrested on suspicion of dealing marijuana to minors. The past few days have also featured several statements about the force’s campaign to recruit new policemen.
Yet over the past two weeks, not one statement has been issued about sex crimes — not because there haven’t been any.
On Sunday, for instance, Haaretz reported that an 18-year-old girl had apparently been raped at the Allenby 40 nightclub in Tel Aviv over the weekend. The teenager filed a complaint, the suspect was arrested and the police even issued the nightclub a closure order.
Normally, an incident like this would be reported to the media — and subsequently, to the public — by the police themselves, in an effort to encourage witnesses or other victims of similar assaults at the club to come forward, among other things. But this time, the police didn’t put out a press statement.
Police also failed to issue statements about several other potentially explosive incidents recently. Last Friday, a Kiryat Malakhi resident in his twenties was arrested on suspicion of raping a girl under the age of 15. At the court hearing, police said the rape occurred in the middle of the day in a Tel Aviv central bus station bathroom, where the alleged rapist forced his victim at knifepoint. Despite the severity of this incident, the police didn’t issue a press statement.
Sunday morning, a bail hearing was held for the director of a local chapter of one of Israel’s largest emergency rescue services. The man is suspected of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl on several occasions. Given the nature of his job, the man has been in contact with hundreds of other underage girls, and there could be a number of other victims, but the police did not issued a press statement in an attempt to find them.
Also on Sunday, a man was arrested on suspicion of sodomizing at least one boy under the age of 14 while impersonating a policeman. In the past, the police would have publicized such a case in an effort to locate additional victims. This time, no press statement was issued.
On Monday, a resident of northern Israel was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman who worked in his house. The man, who comes from a wealthy family, apparently took advantage of the fact that he was alone in the house with the complainant. Police are now investigating whether he might have raped other women as well and a court ordered the man held for two days. Yet once again, the police did not issue a press statement.