It's the Unit for Probing Claims of Police Misconduct, Not for Serving the Police

The new head of the Justice Ministry investigations department says she want to reduce complaints against officers, but it’s police abuse that needs curbing

Haaretz Editorial
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Roni Alsheich and Keren Bar-Menachem in the Knesset, June 27, 2018.
Roni Alsheich and Keren Bar-Menachem in the Knesset, June 27, 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Haaretz Editorial

The directive by the new head of the Justice Ministry unit that investigates allegations of police misconduct, to avoid insofar as is possible arresting police officers suspected of crime, is very worrisome. The policy of Keren Bar-Menachem, who replaced Uri Carmel about two months ago, is an attempt to reduce the tension among the unit, the police and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich from its level during Carmel’s term, especially around the affair involving former Lahav 433 head Roni Ritman and the deaths of a police officer and a civilian in Umm al-Hiran in January 2017. Alsheich believed the Justice Ministry unit was trying to manage the police and had overstepped its role.

But even if Bar-Menachem is right in saying “the relationship between the unit and the police must be healed,” the remedy cannot, under any circumstances, be for her department to a policy of whitewashing. But the new policy is already being applied: Recently, members of the unit sought the arrests of a few police officers who were suspected of serious crimes, but because Bar-Menachem was opposed they were instead released with restrictions (Haaretz, June 29). The new policy points to confusion: The unit’s role is to enforce the law against law enforcement officials — not, as Bar-Menachem believes, “provid[e] a service to the police.”

Bar-Menachem told a Knesset Interior and Environment Ministry meeting last week that addressed the relationship between her unit and the police that one of her goals was to reduce the number of complaints against the police. In this, too, her focus seems misplaced. It isn’t the number of complaints that should be reduced, but rather police abuse, brutality, overenforcement and abuse of powers, in particular against disadvantaged groups. Who will see to this, if not the Justice Ministry department? The unit’s purpose is to protect citizens against misbehaving police officers, not to protect police officers against complaints from their victims, whether they be citizens or other officers.

The Justice Ministry department must avoid overenforcement and demonstrate special sensitivity for the police and the complex work carried out by the officers. But the unit has not yet managed to significantly reduce violence by officers against citizens, especially from weakened groups such as Arabs and Ethiopian immigrants, and the culture of lying to cover for violent behavior even to the point of falsely accusing civilians. Criminal conduct by those who are charged with upholding the law is particularly grave. Someone who does not recognize this cannot do her job as she should. The last thing the Justice Ministry department needs is for the “spirit of the commander” to call for covering up misconduct.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.