The Wrong Way to Select a Police Chief

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch had good intentions: to minimize the damage to Police Commissioner David Cohen, who was concerned that an early announcement of his designated successor would erode his authority during his final months at the top post, before leaving on May 1, 2011.

Aharonovitch planned to name the new police chief in January.

But in the last three weeks, the public security minister has lost control over the process. The resignation of his director general, Hagai Peleg, following accusations against him of sexual harassment, then prompted similar complaints against one of the leading candidates for commissioner, Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein forced Aharonovitch to suspend the appointment process, a bewildering decision considering the minister still had several months to appoint a new commissioner.

During Aharonovitch's conversation with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the minister signaled no urgency that anything in the latter's files could possibly derail the appointment of any of the major generals to the post, thus demonstrating that Aharonovitch never intended to name a police chief so early in the process.

The public security minister should have known that the comptroller's office is working at a snail's pace to probe allegations that negligence on the part of Maj. Gen. Yohanan Danino (and Commissioner Cohen ) led to the murder of two police informants. This probe, initially delayed pending the conclusion of an internal police investigation, was given routine priority within the ombudsman's office.

The individual who restarted the appointment process was Bar-Lev. When he announced last month that he was withdrawing his candidacy, Weinstein lifted the freeze on the appointment process. Aharonovitch, who is once again reacting instead of initiating, then expedited his work - claiming his sense of urgency stemmed from the need to restore stability to a shaken police force. For some reason, he believed the comptroller and attorney general would sign off on the last two candidates up for consideration - Danino and Maj. Gen. Shahar Ayalon.

On Wednesday he was proven wrong and humiliated; the hobbling hiring process has once again hit a rut.

Similar to the controversy surrounding the appointment of the IDF chief of staff two months ago, the system by which candidates are selected has collapsed. The individual acts of improvisation by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Aharonovitch no longer suffice. A methodical, organized screening process is necessary, requiring all candidates to fill out the necessary paperwork before they are recommended by the minister, examined by the Turkel committee and approved by the government.

The episodes involving the IDF and the police force show that the current system does not provide an efficient way to choose a chief of staff or a commissioner.