The Police, the Politicos and the Payouts

Many policemen are exhausted and bitter, and wish to resign but the line of those waiting to join the force is becoming longer. The sting lies in the organization and its culture of mutual cover-ups.

In another week and a half, during the cabinet meeting, another skit in this summer's theater of the absurd is due to take center stage. Between interrogations, on the threshold of a police recommendation to the state prosecution to indict him, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will orchestrate the debate and the vote on the future of Israel Police.

The annual budget of the police, which, like other government bodies, were affected by across-the-board cuts that were inflicted on the various ministries, is some NIS 6.5 billion. The police require an additional NIS 2.5 billion over three years to strengthen their ability to fight crime. This is a worthwhile deal. The monthly tax to be paid by every citizen to beef up his own security will amount to a mere NIS 10.

Tomorrow, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On is due to visit the police and get a first-hand impression of their tasks and plans. After that, the issue of increasing the police budget will go to Olmert's desk and the desks of cabinet ministers Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann, as well as others who belong to the law-enforcement fan club.

The police force is conducting a war of attrition against criminals - not all of them in the sphere of politics - and sometimes also against itself. The data are not unambiguous. Many policemen are exhausted and bitter, and wish to resign but the line of those waiting to join the force is becoming longer. The sting lies in the organization and its culture of mutual cover-ups; favoritism by commanders and their cronies when making appointments that should have gone to independent committees; a heavy bureaucratic burden on policemen on their beats; one clumsy regulation on top of another, and heaven forbid if someone obeys them, or disobeys them.

The police commissioner, David Cohen, who has been a police officer for the past 30 years and is the son of a veteran retired cop (who died a week ago), knows that substance is important but spirit is vital.

Inside the police force, as usual and as can be expected, there are opponents of the current command who claim it is not really successful in identifying the problem, since it itself is at the center of the problem and therefore is unable to solve it. The most significant proponent of this approach is the Southern District commander Uri Bar-Lev, who favors a revolutionary reform in the structure and functioning of the police.

Among the many differences of opinion over the future of the police, arguments also become mixed up about different styles of leadership and personal struggles about private futures - Bar-Lev vs Bar-Lev, the latter being the national headquarters at no 1 (Haim) Bar-Lev Street in Jerusalem. When one sees how much saliva the mention of Bar-Lev's name arouses on the lips of other commanders, one might think that he is the commander of the South Ossetia district.

The nuances that divide the internal schools of thought in the police stem from a common base - the situation is bad but it is improving. Significant indices of crime such as the numbers of cases of murder and theft of vehicles are on the wane, be this decline steep or moderate.

The crime organizations are starting to feel the pressure. By the end of the year, the police hope to have the heads of two of them remanded into custody until the completion of hearings against them.

Thanks to the changes in reality, in legislation and in the attitude of the courts, it is more difficult to engage in crime today. The risk to garages that dare to use stolen parts has increased, gang heads have lost their armed escorts, the Palestinians who were responsible alone, or with Israeli partners, for a considerable slice of the crime are now busy with mutual internal disputes inside the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the separation fence which was meant to increase security has also lessened criminal infiltrations, and the Egyptians are shooting indiscriminately at those who try to infiltrate from the Negev.

The police chief, Cohen, and his deputy Shahar Ayalon, are trying to use this improvement as a kind of lever against the government in general and the treasury in particular. They are in need of investment in technological infrastructure for diverse purposes such as surveillance of secure telecommunications or the gene pool, and for attracting more talented, reliable and knowledgeable professional staff than in the past. The investment is supposed to put advanced and sophisticated equipment at the disposal of reconnaissance, intelligence and interrogation units that will make it possible for them to derive more practical evidence.

The moment of politicians' integrity is the moment of opportunity for the police. The professional ability evidenced in the Olmert investigations has contributed to moving the image of the police along a curve which starts with "serving the regime" and ends with "unbiased law enforcement."

Experienced politicians, including those who were the police's clients in previous rounds, are preparing to adopt issues of law and order as a central part of their platforms.

The first hints of this came when Uzi Dayan joined the Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu started to woo his neighbor in Caesarea, former police chief Assaf Hefetz, who had acted on behalf of the Labor party, and his friend Matan Vilna'i. Hefetz, patron of the school of thought that is being led today by Bar-Lev, is dying to promote the idea of a revolution in the police and will return from the Beijing Olympics into Netanyahu's lap, but he is not interested in joining the Likud.

The burden of proof is now on Kadima where three out of the four contenders for the leadership are Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and two former justice ministers, Tzipi Livni and Meir Sheetrit. If they cannot keep up in the police race after Netanyahu, they will forever bear the mark of Cain of the Olmert-Ramon-Friedmann party.