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Sunday, July 7, 2013

U.S. study shows: Israel Police losing public trust and support

The Israel Police needs a more effective strategy for developing and maintaining public support, according to a recent report by U.S.-based nonprofit research organization the RAND Corporation.

After monitoring the performance of the police from 2010 through 2012, the researchers concluded that the public's trust in the police declined during that period, and that "the public holds many negative views of the police."

These conclusions stand in contrast to claims by the police in recent months, according to which public trust in the police is on the rise.

The report was submitted to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino. It was commissioned by Aharonovitch and Danino's predecessor, David Cohen.

In his first speech in his new post, in May 2011, Danino recalled that Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, said that the public's attitude to the law is demonstrated, above all, by the public's attitude to police officers.

Danino even began implementing a program, called Turning Point, aimed at increasing public trust in the police. Its goals included renovating police stations and responding to all emergency calls from citizens with a text message indicating that their issue was being addressed. However, RAND found that the problem wasn't with rundown police stations but a lack of transparency and accountability.

As an experiment, researchers affixed cameras to the uniforms of six officers, each from the Petah Tikva and Ayalon stations, with the instruction that the officers could turn the cameras on or off at their own discretion. In 65 percent of the cases recorded, the research team member who evaluated the interactions judged that the officer treated the citizens with respect. In only about 25 percent of the cases did the evaluators judge that the interaction between the officer and citizen was negative.

The research team conducted interviews with 26 focus groups, composed of Israelis representing a range of ages, racial and ethnic groups, and a number of geographical areas, in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian.

The issues of public mistrust in, and dissatisfaction with, the police soon came to the fore. When asked what the police should do, participants said they expected the police to serve the community, maintain public order, decrease crime, be trustworthy, treat people fairly, and respond to calls. Most focus group members said that, in their opinion, the police did not meet any of these requirements satisfactorily.

When asked to articulate the reasons for this belief, participants cited officers' unprofessionalism, rudeness and lack of authoritative appearance, as well as a tendency to arrive late when responding to incidents. In addition, they felt that the police focus on major crimes and the activities of organized crime gangs rather than on the everyday crime that is most distressing to them.

Arab and immigrant respondents in particular complained of discriminatory treatment from officers. "We are a second-class people, and we are aware of the fact that we do not receive first-class services," one Arab focus group member said.

The researchers also determined that Israelis recognize many positive elements in the performance of the police. Many sources consulted for the study noted that the police are effective at fighting many types of crime, and said the police should have bigger budgets and be given the resources to hire more officers.

The report notes that Israel Police, in contrast to many police forces around the world, is responsible not only for all domestic policing duties - including traffic and highway patrols - but also for duties that are usually carried out by separate crime-fighting agencies, such as drug, alcohol and firearms, border policing, and the investigation of economic crimes.

The report also includes a media review and extensively cites references, including a recent study by Dr. Eran Vigoda-Gadot of the University of Haifa's Center for Administration and Public Policy, and Dr. Shlomo Mizrahi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's School of Business and Management, showing that public satisfaction with the Israel Police is below that of nearly all other public services and agencies.

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