Sunday, June 6, 2010

Community Policing in Israel

I'm spending the summer in Israel, working for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, and hopefully also writing a significant amount. The latter, alas, is still more hope than reality. At any rate, the past week has been full of reports about the flotillas to Gaza, the failed Israeli operation that cost the lives of nine persons and the fallout from these events, which has been enormous. So much so, that I have little to add in terms of commentary. Thus, this post will be about something completely different - the new community policing plan in Israel and why I think it might fail.
Israel is launching a new community policing pilot in fifteen cities. Basically, the idea is to recruit more officers that will "undergo full police training as well as training in assisting municipal authorities on such issues such as street violence and vandalism of public property like parks, schools and community centers. They will also patrol malls, commercial areas and night clubs. The new policemen will also take action against noise and public disturbances and street vendors and other threats to quality of life."
This is all very nice, and probably important as well, but the plan, in my opinion, suffers from two flaws. First, the police officers will be subordinate to the national police force and not the municipalities. Although the officers will work closely with mayors, I believe that strengthing the local municipality and targeting particular city problems might require these police officers to be part of the municipality mechanism, which will make collaboration easier and smoother. More importantly, however, is the officers' job description. From the article, it appears that the community police will focus on "urban" crimes, but its mode of work will not differ greatly from that of the regular police.
This approach is flawed. Community policing is not just about law enforcement in cities, but an opportunity to connect the police and citizens in a fruitful dialogue that will result in better policing, fewer crimes, and stronger ties between government and citizens. The Israeli pilot presents a top-bottom model of police control, whereby officers get their priorities from police HQ and city authorities. Of course, these are valuable sources of information, but the police should also engage the actual residents of the city in periodical meetings to find out what's bothering the people, how that can be improved, and utilize the residents as monitors of police activity. Combining these sources of information, working with local government but also with the people as part of a bottom-up approach, will thus meet policing goals in a more effective manner.
In work done by Archon Fung from the Kennedy School of Government, he details the working out of such an experiment in the Chicago Police Department. Though some of the results were mixed, Fung argues that such a model, termed by him as "accountable autonomy," led to increased participation of residents in the governance of their community, that such participation cuts across class lines and neighborhoods, that most of the police officers got used to working directly with the people despite initial resistance, and that overall the residents were relatively pleased with the program and could see improvements in their neighborhoods as a result of that collaboration.
This type of collaboration is missing from the Israeli community policing program, and as such increases the chances of it being less successful than it could have been. The pilot hasn't started yet, so there's still hope, however dim, that things will change.


  1. very interesting! I'm not sure though if this model can be at all regarded as "bottom up". from your description it seems that the police increases its manpower in the participating municipalities, but other than that it's pretty much "top down" - you have policemen who get their orders in a hierarchical manner. So maybe more attention will be given to local problems, but apparently the decisionmaking model won't change.

  2. Thanks, Jennifer. Right, I think that's what I meant. My criticism was that the new model is still top-bottom, and in that it keeps to the existing model of policing. The new model, the one proposed by Fung, is more bottom-up, and is thus more promising.

  3. Adam, my question is - so what new thing does the community policing program offers that the national police service don't? Is it essentially just to give more police attention to municipalities but don't they do that already anyway?

  4. Anna, from what I can tell - yes. More officers, focusing on particular "urban" offences, and working more closely with municipalities.


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