Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 15, 1998
It’s strange to see everyone getting so agitated about an Iraqi biological weapons attack, despite its improbability. Violence that persistently poses a * genuine * threat to the security of our homes and happiness of our families gets no attention whatsoever: the burglary, murder, rape, neighborhood violence, drug addiction and death by traffic accident that affronts us daily.
Overshadowed by Saddam’s missiles and the gas mask hysteria was the release last week of the Israel Police’s hair-raising report on crime in our supposedly-peaceful Zionist paradise. The bottom line: in our fiftieth year, Israel is becoming a dangerous place to live. And not because of terrorism or chemical weapon-totting madmen. * Personal * security, not * national * security, is the problem.
Indeed, there’s real menace out there to our peace and prosperity that has little to do with the Arab-Israel conflict. Consider that a traffic accident and at least one car theft takes place every 11 minutes; a break-in to a home or business every 15 minutes; a physical assault every 21 minutes; a sexual assault every five hours and a rape every 12; a traffic fatality every 17 hours; armed robbery at least 4 times daily; and a murder every 56 hours.
This calculates to 20,000 reported cases of violence within the family each year and another 10,000 assorted other assaults; 46,000 car thefts (up 25 percent from last year, with only 30 percent of the vehicles ever recovered); close to 60,000 burglaries; some 14,000 drug related offenses; 192 non-terrorist murders (a 60 percent increase over the past two years); and more than 500 traffic deaths.
So, what worries you more – the remote possibility of a stray Saddam projectile heading this way, or the danger of roaming gangs picking on your kid in the mall and dragging him into drugs? Where should we be investing our millions – in gas masks and masking tape, or in a bigger, better domestic affairs police force? Or perhaps the educational system.
Anyone who ever has approached the Israel Police to file a complaint in a civil, domestic or plain old criminal matter, knows how frustrating, even futile the exercise can be. Try to get a constable out to your neighborhood to pick up a roaming druggie. Or to earnestly investigate a break-in. One row of homes in Ramot, Jerusalem, across the valley from Beit Iksa, has suffered over 40 robberies, and the police haven’t yet taken fingerprints or deigned to volunteer the odd nighttime patrol.
Who didn’t read, in frustration and shame, the diary of an anonymous battered wife, published recently in Haaretz? She went to the police half a dozen times, but the officers never gave the violent husband any reason to take her complaints or their warnings seriously.
With order to keep in the Old City during Ramadan, bus bombings to prevent, and Deri to investigate (along with Olmert, Dinitz, Neeman and others never convicted), the police are pretty helpless in preventing the deterioration of our quality of life. They have neither the training, time, manpower or mindset necessary to seriously pursue homegrown street criminals or everyday mischief makers. Nor can they truly fight the rapidly-expanding organized crime and prostitution gangs.
What’s to do? Beyond the obvious — beef up the police force — here’s a couple of suggestions:
* Elect a sheriff: All crime, like politics, is local. Make the streets safer by devolving more authority to local police precincts, and allow elections for sheriff of the town. Perhaps Officer Hefetz will pay attention to the burglars in my backyard if he needs my vote.
* Sensitivity training: As kids, we were taught that when in trouble, look for your friendly neighborhood constable in blue. Imagine that here! A little American-style community sensitivity training might produce officers that are nice, helpful and available.
* Specialization: Establish a special division for crimes against women, along with a community relations squad and a hate crimes unit. A section designed to go after computer crimes too. The Anti-Defamation League has helped train dozens of these units in the U.S., and will be glad to help.
* Close the Green Line: Car thefts went down fifty percent during last year’s long closure.
* G-Men: Perhaps it’s time to establish an FBI of our own to tackle the narcotics trade, foreign Mafia attempts to influence politics, sexual bondage syndicates, and high-tech financial fraud.
I’ll gladly return my gas mask to the authorities to save some money for an all-out war on crime. (Why do we have to cower again behind masks in sealed rooms anyway?) It’s the lawlessness at home, not the law-breaker of Baghdad, that has me worried.