Top Israeli Cop Stepping Down Amid Spike in Fatal Traffic Accidents

Israel's road death toll rose by 11 percent in 2015; partial data indicates no improvement in 2016.

Brig. Gen. Yaron Be'eri.
Ofer Vaknin

The head of the traffic police announced his resignation on Tuesday night, following mounting criticism of his performance in light of the sharp rise in the number of serious traffic accidents.

Brig. Gen. Yaron Be’eri told Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich he would retire from the police in November.

According to data recently released by the police, the number of people killed in traffic accidents rose by 11 percent last year compared to 2014, while partial data for this year shows that so far, there has been no improvement. As a result, various officials have been urging Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to replace Be’eri with a more experienced officer.

Over the past few months, Erdan and other senior officials in his ministry have held several meetings with Be’eri and other senior police officers. During these meetings, Erdan demanded explanations for the ongoing large numbers of accidents, but wasn’t satisfied by the explanations he received.

Erdan has recently been trying to get the traffic police more money and manpower, but his associates said he didn’t believe Be’eri would use the extra resources effectively. And when Be’eri realized that Erdan was trying to oust him, he decided he would rather resign.

The leading candidate to replace him is the deputy commander of the police’s Northern District, Brig. Gen. Doron Yedid.

At a ceremony marking Alsheich’s induction as police commissioner last December, Erdan noted that casualties from traffic accidents had been on the rise for the past three years.

“We see enforcing the law on the roads as a key tool for fighting the slaughter on the roads, and therefore we’ll improve enforcement and work to reduce the number of traffic accidents in general, and among urban pedestrians in particular,” Alsheich said. He has made similar statements in virtually every subsequent speech.

But accident statistics recently published by the police show that last year was worse than 2014 in almost every respect.

Altogether, there were 12,774 accidents in 2015, including 319 that involved fatalities, constituting a 10 percent increase.

The number of people killed in accidents rose 11 percent, to 355, of whom 114 were pedestrians.

A majority of the pedestrians killed were either children age 14 and younger or senior citizens age 65 and older.

Finally, there were 1,632 accidents in which at least one person was seriously injured, marking a 10 percent increase, and 1,892 people were seriously injured in these accidents.

Fatalities rose especially sharply – 16 percent – on intercity roads, compared to an increase of 6 percent within city limits. But serious injuries were up 10 percent in urban areas, slightly more than the 9 percent rise recorded on intercity roads.

Nor is the picture any better this year. Through the end of July, 207 people were killed in traffic accidents, one more than during the same period last year.

When Be’eri was appointed to head the traffic police in February 2015, there were people both inside and outside the police who voiced concern, arguing that he was professionally unsuited to the job. Be’eri came to the police from the army, where his last position was as a brigadier general in charge of the manpower division.

When he retired from the army, Alsheich’s predecessor as police commissioner, Yohanan Danino, recruited Be’eri to head the police’s personnel department. But later he was appointed head of the traffic police, even though that job is usually given to someone with police experience in the field.

Between 2004 and 2012, there was a steep decline in the number of people killed in road accidents, from 505 in 2004 to 301 in 2012. But over the next three years, this figure began climbing again.

Be’eri’s associates blamed the recent rise in the number of accidents on the cuts in both budget and personnel that his department has suffered. But other senior police officers dismissed this claim, saying that neither budget cuts nor personnel cuts could reasonably be blamed when even the department’s existing resources aren’t being used properly.

Yet another problem, they said, is that the department continues to devote a lot of resources to the crimes of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even though these are relatively minor factors in causing accidents. Of the 319 fatal accidents that occurred last year, for instance, only 16 were caused by a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

One traffic policeman gave Haaretz another example. “We’re required to wait at street corners to catch those who ‘steal’ into the [turning] lane or who drive in the public transportation lane, even though only four accidents over the last year happened for this reason,” he said.

“We aren’t visible enough on the ground,” he added. “We aren’t out driving on the roads enough. Anyone who sees a patrol car takes his foot off the gas; anyone who sees a policeman on watch calms down. We need to get back to fighting traffic accidents. This is a war.”

A police spokesman said the force was “surprised by the hurtful and tendentious statements against Brig. Gen. Be’eri, given the fact that he started the job only during 2015, so his influence on it was limited. In contrast, the first half of 2016 speaks for itself – a decline of 37 percent in the number of serious and fatal accidents on the roads compared to the same period last year.”

The statement added that Be’eri had taken numerous significant steps, including giving additional funds to the National Road Safety Authority, buying patrol cars and other equipment, and “recruiting dozens of students to beef up the traffic force.”