Sex, Policemen and Polygraphs

With the nation, and the police, distracted by salacious accusations against Uri Bar-Lev, it is worth examining the reforms he proposed for the force - which earned him exile to the U.S.

In the United States, where Uri Bar-Lev was exiled last year so he would be far away from police chief Dudi Cohen, the kind of person Bar-Lev is now perceived to be in Israel is often referred to as a "womanizer." Until it is decided officially whether Bar-Lev will in May 2011 be appointed to Cohen's post, which seems rather unlikely, the entire police force has been humiliated. Furthermore, since the spotlight has been cast upon the question of who will become the next police chief, the public is too distracted to relate to a question of no lesser import: namely, what does the position of police commissioner entail?

law and order
Amos Biderman

In order to recommend that the prosecution charge Bar-Lev, state attorneys must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a judge will accept the complainants' accusations and reject his version of events. The Police Investigations Department can also recommend that Bar-Lev face charges in the force's disciplinary court. The head of that court is a woman, Brig. Gen. Ronit Kaminski; working with her are junior female judges with the rank of commander. A disciplinary proceeding against Maj. Gen. Bar-Lev, however, would require a special bench in the courtroom, headed by an officer who shares his rank. Should the PID be convinced that Bar-Lev is innocent, or even if they have doubts about his guilt or innocence, the file will be closed. Whatever happens, in light of these questions, it will clearly have a bearing on Bar-Lev's future.

The PID was originally part of the force's internal affairs unit, but at a certain point, authority over it was transferred to the Justice Ministry. In recent years, the department has taken on a civilian character. For the first time, its personnel are graduating from a professional training course that has nothing to do with the police, the Shin Bet, the Mossad or the Israel Defense Forces. Nonetheless, the department still has on its staff active and retired officers deployed primarily on professional monitoring or intelligence tasks. At any event, even in PID, an investigation, wherever it is held and whoever runs it, is an investigation: complete with an interrogation room, witnesses, evidence, interrogated and interrogators.

Nearly three decades ago, when he was a young officer in the combat Engineer Corps, Bar-Lev was injured by a landmine in the Golan Heights, and now wears a prosthetic leg. Is it possible that he has indulged in adventurous or problematic behavior due to his serious injury, even though he appeared to have overcome the handicap and refused to surrender to its limitations?

Uri Bar-Lev is a captivating person, a leader who is deeply admired by many men and women on the police force, though he also stirs strong negative feelings among some. Among other things, people seem to be envious of him and he has provoked resentment due to his insistence on proposing far-ranging changes in the force, which are seen as a threat to the established order. Such changes can actually be implemented only from the top, by the relevant minister or the police commissioner.

Yitzhak Aharonovitz, Avigdor's "delegate" at the public security ministry, was appointed minister on the basis of questionable qualifications; he is a former deputy police commissioner who bore a grudge about not being appointed to the top job on the force. As minister, Aharonovitz has had to contend with the man in that job, Commissioner Cohen, who fights tenaciously against any challenge to his authority. Today, the relationship between the two is relatively proper, but there were some bumps in the road before it stabilized - one relatively minor (Aharonovitz's comment about Cohen regarding the detainment on camera of Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, earlier this year ), and one serious (the minister's support of Bar-Lev against Cohen, who has demanded that Bar-Lev be ousted from the police force ).

Aharonovitz also agreed to Bar-Lev's demand for an investigation of whether Cohen wiretapped the brigadier general's conversations with his lawyer, Yaakov Neeman, who is now justice minister. On the instructions of then-attorney general Menachem Mazuz, the Shin Bet conducted a "short clarification, facilitated by technical means" and dispensed with Bar-Lev's suspicions; Cohen, however, became worried about the alliance that seemed to be developing against him.

Cohen has been an assertive police chief. The campaign against public corruption owes a lot to him. Under his watch, the police investigations and intelligence division, headed by his deputy Yoav Segalovitz, notched up major successes - with the help not only of advanced electronic intelligence and a DNA lab, but also a staff that knows how to make use of the equipment and the data. These advances, however, did not involve police work that relates to everyday offenses against people or property. Cohen instituted changes within the police force; the broader challenge to be faced by his successor is changing the police itself.

All major generals who are under consideration for the commissioner post understand the magnitude of this challenge, and are qualified to do the work. These include Bar Lev; Shahar Ayalon, who is head of the Tel Aviv district and now in his fourth post as major general; and Beni Kaniak, commissioner of the Israel Prison Service. Kaniak has removed himself from the competition, perhaps partly because he received in his present capacity status and benefits commensurate with those awarded to the police chief. But he may not be able to turn down an appeal, in the name of the public good, to reconsider and become police commissioner. The current deputy police chief, Ilan Franco, is no longer on the list.

All of the contenders know what needs to be done. Some of them talk about it only off the record. Bar-Lev was exceptional in that he was sufficiently brash to draft a plan that challenged the status quo on the force, and to relay that document in July 2008 to the police commissioner and to the then-public security minister Avi Dichter. The plan was not kept secret; Cohen had reason to believe that it was distributed fairly widely. The following month, Bar-Lev suddenly learned that he was to be sent off the following summer on an academic-study leave, with no post guaranteed to him at the conclusion. When he refused to go, Cohen essentially sent him into exile to the U.S., where he has served as the police force's representative in Washington, D.C.

'A growing, large gap'

Bar-Lev, as police southern district head, called the document "A Different Police Force." He was assisted in preparing it by Commander Pini Yehezkeli, who quickly also found himself targeted by Cohen.

"There is a growing, large gap between the public's needs in the police sphere and the police's ability to meet those needs," Bar-Lev wrote, adding that the force's antiquated organizational structure and work processes are removed from "the many changes in the environment in which the police has carried out assignments in recent decades." The force, Bar-Lev continued, has been "rattled by a series of scandals." It suffers from an organizational pipeline that is "old and frayed, and continually causes explosions and floods."

Bar-Lev, one of founders of the IDF's elite Duvdevan undercover unit in the West Bank, also suggested that the police force turn into a small, smart army - at least in its upper ranks. Specifically, he supported a smaller and more professional police command structure backed by sophisticated technology. The current situation, he contended, is characterized by "a lack of faith in commanders among district officers, particularly middle-ranking officers, along with the public's lack of trust in the police."

According to Bar-Lev's organizational vision, "men in the field will promote the primary innovations ... Commanders of thousands of policemen in the field should deploy them on the basis of a flexible business model. Various types of career officers should serve side-by-side in the police force, and become eligible for a diverse array of rewards and compensation; there should also be temporary policemen and security personnel hired from [outside] companies to carry out specific assignments ... "

Bar-Lev's document contained praise for the effort by former police chief Assaf Hefetz to develop a strategy of community policing. This was, Bar-Lev suggested, a worthy endeavor that did not take off because the proposed conceptual change was not preceded by an organizational transformation of the police force.

Bar-Lev proposed that the police learn from the international clothing chain Zara, which makes design decisions in consultation with salespeople in stores, who have an intimate understanding of client needs, rather than depending upon detached, expensive fashion designers. The salespeople, he concluded, became agents of change.

Bar-Lev's proposal underscored the fact that the dispute with Cohen was not about the need for change in the police force, but rather about its scope. Bar-Lev acknowledged that the chief wanted to simplify the force's organizational structure, but contended that the commissioner was working too slowly, due to a fear that "too much of a shake-up in the organization would hamper its work."

Bar-Lev further charged that "the bureaucracy will dilute any change, if it is given too much time to do so." He said he wanted to bring about fast, substantive organizational change that would, he warned, "stir waves of resistance from within, or outside the force, and would require thousands of officers and their subordinates to work in the field, or go home."

"We in the southern district," wrote Bar-Lev, as though there were two police forces in Israel, the regular force and his own, "believe that the implementation of this program will create a new police force, expanding its abilities." The police could even "spearhead a wide-ranging reform in the public sector, completely changing the organizational structure of public service in Israel."

Less than a month after Bar-Lev submitted this document, Cohen pushed him out.

While Bar-Lev might not have the chance to implement these ideas personally, as police commissioner, Aharonovitz has quietly adopted many of the same ideas, and emerged as one of the most influential figures to serve as public security minister. One step he has taken is the publication of an innocent-sounding job offering for someone who will "provide counseling and monitor the formulation and application of an efficiency program" for the Public Security Ministry, the police and the Prison Service; the job would involve 30,000 hours of work, over three years. Should the Finance Ministry approve a serious allocation for this position, many serious figures from Israel and overseas are likely to vie for the post.

Precedents in police commissioner appointments, including Cohen's promotion in 2007, suggest that Ayalon could be a frontrunner this time around. That would not necessarily spell the end of Bar-Lev's career, should he extricate himself from the current criminal accusations. Should he deflect the accusations but not win the commissioner appointment, he could leave the police force as a frustrated major general, jump into the political arena and make a comeback as the man pulling the strings on the police force: as public security minister.