The Police Internal Investigations Department is not part of the police force or its umbrella ministry, the Ministry of Public Security. It was established as part of the Ministry of Justice, with a director equivalent in rank to a district prosecutor. This happened after it turned out that the police Unit for Internal Investigations was not fulfilling its role. Policeman in that unit tended to treat their colleagues forgivingly. Their promotion depended on the commanders and colleagues of those being investigated. Under these circumstances, the internal investigations unit did not manage to uproot the culture of lies there, instead giving it an unenthusiastic, coerced stamp of approval.
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The Ministry of Justice investigative department is supposed to be what the police’s internal unit wasn’t, but according to last week’s state comptroller’s report, the results of its operations are questionable. According to this report, the systemic approach to police brutality towards citizens, both by the Internal Investigations Unit in criminal matters and by the disciplinary division of police headquarters in disciplinary matters, is thoroughly flawed. Complaints are not addressed in a proper way and most files are closed without charges being brought. Subsequently, policemen suspected of brutality receive preferential treatment. Policemen who are charged are not suspended, and the ones convicted are not always dismissed from the force.
The conclusion is that the police system sanctifies cover-ups, encourages policemen not to incriminate their colleagues, and dissuades citizens from filing complaints, while relying on the cooperation of the Internal Investigations Unit. The handling of police incidents that were videotaped is not typical of most cases, in which the infuriating ruling principle holds that when there is no evidence, the assaulted citizen is miraculously transformed into the assailant. The comptroller did some thorough work here, possibly due to the fact that one of his advisers, Amichai Shay, was until recently a senior police officer – the head of human resources and in charge of the disciplinary department.
The problem is that Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, who was an army paratroop officer and then a Shin Bet official for most of his adult life, is digging in to defend the police, as though he’d risen through its ranks and as if Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan had not explained his appointment of this outsider as an attempt to clean the stables. Alsheikh is in a dual conflict with the Internal Investigations Unit. One concerns the appointment of Maj. Gen. Roni Rittman as head of the elite Lahav 433 unit, and the other revolves around the fatal events in Umm al-Hiran. Despite the generally light-handed treatment of policemen by the Internal Investigations Unit, Alsheikh portrays it as being too harsh. And if the Internal Investigations Unit is the enemy, obviously the policemen are “our guys,” no matter how violent they are.
The Israel Police have a dual purpose: policing and providing public service. Without public confidence, the police will find it hard to fulfill their function, and if citizens see there is no point complaining about a policeman or a criminal, crime will flourish. Police brutality cannot be stopped by ignoring reality. The comptroller’s findings should be adopted, with severe measures taken against policemen who act violently toward citizens.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.