The escape of the state’s witness in the Barnoar shooting case was the climactic scene in the theater of the absurd playing out before us in recent weeks. This scandalous failure to guard a key witness in such a major case put both the witness and the chances of obtaining convictions at risk, and cast a heavy pall over the police’s conduct. Unfortunately, this is far from the only recent police screw-up. It joins a series of police blunders in the Barnoar case and in other cases, and raises suspicions that something is basically rotten in the system that is meant to protect our lives and security.
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These blunders include the killing of the two little girls in Rahat, which could have been prevented if policemen in Arad had acted according to procedure upon receiving a complaint from the mother about the father’s intent to kill them; the killing of a woman in south Tel Aviv by her husband, which might also have been prevented if the policeman who was sent an hour earlier to check out the woman’s complaint hadn’t merely glanced through the window; several escapes of prisoners from courthouses, and more. What’s even more absurd is that as the failures pile up, the police PR campaign becomes more intense; it has come to include not merely arrogant announcements, but violations of gag orders and information overexposure, including the release of sensitive evidence to the public, seemingly in violation of the law.
In the case of the Bank Hapoalim shooting in Be’er Sheva, many eyebrows were raised when only two days after the incident the police released a video of those disastrous minutes. Such publication before the investigation was completed does not seem reasonable, and was liable to hurt the families of those who were killed. It appears that it was meant to highlight the bravery of the policemen who burst into the bank and rushed to evacuate the wounded and handcuff Omar Walid, who was mistakenly thought to be the gunman. But the scope of the massacre, and the fact that the gunman was not caught or shot, but shot himself, demonstrate that this wasn’t exactly a success story, either.
Police conduct in the Barnoar case was even more bizarre. The dramatic announcement that the crime had been solved caused discomfort for two reasons. First, when the announcement was made, it still wasn’t clear if the evidence gathered against the suspects was adequate in terms of criminal law, in the absence of confessions or forensic findings. Second, the word “solved” leads us to imagine some Sherlock Holmes successfully exercising his razor-sharp deductive skills, while the prosaic truth is that details of the killing were revealed by a criminal who reported them to the police. It’s like a man who prides himself on uncovering a rare treasure, when the treasure was actually sent to him by mail.
Even worse, the state’s witness claims that two days after the killings, he had provided police with significant information related to the event. If this is true, then not only is this no glorious police success, it’s a resounding failure, and instead of thoroughly examining it and drawing conclusions from it, the police is attempting to cover it up with a PR campaign.
The police’s declaration that the Barnoar shooting was not a hate crime was also mistaken and outrageous, and the smug press conference given by senior Tel Aviv Police officers in violation of a gag order was criticized even by Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. The police seemed more eager to boast and juggle words (“the state’s witness didn’t flee, he left”) than to do their job. The state’s witness was found, but the blunder of his escape while in a safe house under 24-hour guard must be investigated with a broad perspective that also addresses the other failures listed here. There is a need for a deep and fundamental overhaul that would turn the Israel Police into a functioning and effective crime-fighting force, rather than a manipulative public relations office.