Terrible, but Not Bad

Statistics do not comfort those suffering from the lawlessness, or the indifference of the police.

In the classic television series "Naked City," on cops and robbers in New York City, each chapter was concluded with the following narration: "There are eight million such stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them." In Israel there are 7.3 million stories of frustration, indignation and concern in view of the violence, the bullying and the criminality.

Take this story for example, which may not have made headlines, but is typical. No one was hurt and there is no damage. The disaster that could have occurred was put off for another time.

An Isuzu truck, license plate 85-176-55, pulled into the Dor Alon gas station on Levinsky Street, at the corner of Har Zion Street in Tel Aviv, near the central bus station, on Thursday midday.

The driver and his passenger stayed in the vehicle during refueling. The driver smoked a cigarette. Not only is this illogical, but it is also illegal and carries a fine of as much as NIS 12,000.

The woman refueling the vehicle refused to chastise the driver about the violation: If his window is closed, she explained, he is allowed to smoke. She was still talking when the driver rolled down his window and tapped ash near the gas pumps.

A minute later he emerged from the vehicle, cigarette lit between his fingers, stretched his limbs and began walking around the gas station.

The police emergency response number, 100, was quick to react to the telephone call. Perhaps this is the case every time, or maybe the criticism they have suffered recently did the trick. The emergency response number is also swamped with calls that have nothing to do with emergencies, like information on addresses. Such questions are diverted to another number, 200, making the number 100 free to receive genuine emergency calls.

The well-mannered person on the other line registered the call and the details and promised to deal with it. Thirty seconds later, the person on the 100 emergency line called back and asked that the person reporting the incident should travel across town to file a complaint.

There is no point in sending a police officer to the station, the voice on the phone explained, since the truck has already left and the officer will be able to do nothing, since he did not witness the violation. A complaint is necessary - in other words, making the citizen slog through traffic is necessary.

And the gas station, what of it? And the next gas station that the truck will stop at? Let them burn. This, of course, the person on the 100 emergency line did not say. That is only the basic conclusion of the case.

When an officer decides, of his own initiative, to give a ticket to a citizen, to his car, to his dog, we can rely on the speed with which the police react. When a citizen in involved in an incident that requires filing a complaint or merely by being a witness and wishing to offer assistance, then they wear him out to the point where he gets the point, gives up and reaches a terrible conclusion about the police and its indifference.

The situation will start changing only if the police force reaches the citizen during the times when he needs its services, and not only the other way around. If every police officer, everywhere, would be able to register a complaint into a wireless system linked up to a district information system, that is in turn tied into a national system, this would make the handling of complaints more efficient.

And even if this is not done across the board, then at least the officers on motorbikes, bicycles and patrol cars should be trained to accept complaints on the move.

In order to get a balanced picture, maybe not on the complaint, we should look at the Israeli statistics in a global perspective. Israel, it turns out, is considered fifth in world in the "safest against murder" category, after Slovenia, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland (and is no Chicago, where 10 times more people are killed compared to the size of its population).

It is more appropriate to be impressed with where Israel stands in the world rank for life expectancy: 13th, and essentially ninth if you take out some of the minor islets - after Japan, Canada, France, Sweden and Switzerland, but before New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Britain and others.

An Israeli infant is expected to reach 81 years of age, two and a half more than his counterpart in the U.S., 14 more than a person in Russia. An immigrant from Sudan who gives birth in Israel grants her child a chance for an additional 30 years of life.

It turns out that the specific horror of the situation is mitigated by an overall total that is a lot better than many places on earth. Statistics do not comfort those suffering from the lawlessness, or the indifference of the police. It means though that with a little effort it is possible to improve the feeling too, so that the relative reality can be mitigated.