Israeli police officers under investigation for violent conduct are to get a “morale boost” with the adoption of a set of controversial measures intended to stop them leaving their jobs.
The number of officers leaving the police force due to low morale has nearly doubled over the past year.
Officers suspected of using excessive force against civilians will no longer be suspended and can instead expect promotion even before an investigation into their conduct is concluded.
The measures are not without their critics, however. A senior law enforcement official in the Justice Ministry said that it sends a negative message to officers that they can continue to act inappropriately. “Citizens could meet the officer the next day on the street as if nothing had happened,” the unnamed official is reported as saying by Haaretz. According to the Israeli newspaper, low morale within the police force is a major issue with which the occupation state has not be able to get to grips. In 2021, around 850 officers resigned, compared with 465 in 2020 and 582 in 2019.
A survey conducted by the Israel Police Commissioner found that one of the main reasons for the officers leaving was a perceived lack of support for those under investigation by the Justice Ministry, along with burn out and dissatisfaction with salaries. The survey found that many officers feel that officers under investigation are treated as if they have already been found guilty, even before it is decided whether or not to charge them.
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No political reasons for low morale were mentioned, but the increase in officers leaving the force over the past two years coincides with growing communal violence and riots, especially in the occupied territories where illegal settlers continue to escalate tension with their ongoing theft of Palestinian land and attacks on Palestinians and their properties.
Moreover, Israeli police officers have the unenviable task of enforcing the relentlessly repressive policies of their government. Last week, for example, security officials warned that the total closure of the occupied West Bank and cancellation of easier movement for Palestinians during the month of Ramadan would trigger protests.
The plan to improve staff retention and reduce the level of resignations will see officers under investigation for violent conduct being granted benefits which they do not currently enjoy. The salary of an officer moved to desk duty will not be reduced during the first half year of an investigation. They can also expect to get promotion retrospectively if they miss out on career opportunities while under investigation. Furthermore, decisions concerning the employment of an officer under investigation will be made by a district commander, rather than the police disciplinary department, which tend to take a stricter approach.
“We were too strict with the officers and this led to a lack of motivation and a feeling of a lack of support,” explained one senior police officer. “It can’t be that for every complaint or suspicion, a policeman will suffer as though they had already been convicted, when most of the investigations last for months and sometimes even years.”