Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crime in Israel

Crime and values


Crime in Israel doesn't just seem to be getting worse. It is worse. On Monday, The Jerusalem Post published a "crime blotter," compiled from reports after the weekend by news editor Amir Mizroch, of murder (and dismemberment), armed robbery, intimidation of the police by mob figures, stabbings, rape, sexual assault, family violence and juvenile delinquency.

Many Israelis are dismayed by what is happening; especially the senseless murder of Leonard Karp and the assault on his wife and daughter on the promenade at Tel Baruch beach in Tel Aviv. A group of eight Arab youths, who were inebriated, accompanied by two young Jewish women, one a soldier, allegedly murdered Karp, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This news came on the heels of the recent discovery of body parts both in Ramat Gan and north of Netanya; the arrest of a suspected serial rapist in Haifa; and an apparent revenge murder in Beit Dagan - among other mayhem. In contrast, 20 years ago, the entire month of August 1989 passed without a single criminally-inspired murder. There were heroin busts and arrests for foreign currency smuggling. A police chase resulted in the accidental death of a three-year-old Tel Aviv girl. A Knesset committee learned that prostitution was unchecked; another panel heard that thousands of children had been abused. In addition to horrific violence associated with the first intifada, there was also the occasional attack by groups of Israeli Arabs inside the Green Line - robbing passersby (in Haifa) and throwing stones at strolling couples (in Acre). A Gaza Palestinian accused of raping and killing a Jewish boy was on trial for murder.

There was also religious violence, with Jerusalem haredim clashing with police (in Har Nof) in "defense of the sanctity of the Sabbath."

Though this country has never been a Shangri-La, it has known comparatively little violent crime of the kind that makes a person think twice about going out for a walk.

IT MAY be true that Israel's murder rate is now comparable to other advanced societies, as police insist. For instance, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 171 murders in Israel (population 7.4 million) during 2008. In New York City (population 8.3 million) there were, by comparison, 523 killed last year. London (7.5 million) averages around 170 homicides annually.

Comparing crime rates across societies is unsatisfying. Zionist sensibilities are not assuaged because Israel's murder rate is on par with London's. True, we are no longer a small and comparatively homogeneous country. Still, who wants "natural growth" in our murder rates, in line with an increasing population?

Israel is not immune to the ills that affect other advanced societies - teenage binge-drinking, desensitizing computer-generated virtual violence; brutality peddled as entertainment, laissez-faire parenting and adolescent ennui.

A PUBLIC policy debate is under way about how to address a situation perceived to be deteriorating.

Part of the solution is more effective and efficient management of police resources. For instance, in certain districts, community-based policing can provide some of the answers - especially when cops who know a neighborhood walk the beat. Decision-makers still need to decide whether it's best to give municipal officials jurisdiction over local crime-fighting, or empower regional police commanders to do the job.

We need to be hiring more police. Currently there are 2.65 cops for every 1,000 Israelis (in Italy, the ratio is 5:1). But quality matters as much quantity. Starting officers' salaries are woefully low; we need to raise the pay scale of police and strengthen their professionalism.

Enhancing personal security also requires appointing prosecutors and judges who put public safety first, and a Finance Ministry prepared to spend astutely on the criminal justice system, including the Prison Service. Above all, it requires leadership from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Since criminal behavior permeates all strata of society, tackling it requires a multi-faceted approach. For instance, youthful boredom in the Arab sector can perhaps be ameliorated by mandating community service.

One way to re-instill decency and civility as requisite values of Israeli society is for mukhtars, business leaders, politicians, rabbis, media personalities and other elites themselves to behave as if the children of this country are watching. Because they are.

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