One step forward for police, two steps back

(This post originally appeared as a column in the Jerusalem Post weekend magazine on February 26th, 2015)

Congratulations are in order for Gila Gaziel, who became the highest-ranking woman in the Israel Police on Sunday, when she was made the latest female assistant-chief – the second-highest rank in the force.

Gila Gaziel in a ceremony celebrating her appointment to assistant-chief.. (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

Gila Gaziel in a ceremony celebrating her appointment to assistant-chief.. (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

A non-threatening pat on the back is also in order for the Israel Police, for making the promotion – as long, of course, as it avoids being tarnished by yet another sex scandal involving police officers that breaks before you finish reading this sentence.

That’s about how it’s gone for the Israel Police over the past couple of months – sex scandal after sex scandal, and one “[temporarily] unnamed senior police officer” after another accused of sexual misconduct against female subordinates.

With his police force the subject of public ridicule and disdain (at least, more than they were already), National Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino vowed late last month to appoint more women to senior police ranks, and said the day might not be far off when there is a female police commissioner.

Until that day comes – assuming it does – the highest-ranking female cop we have is Gaziel. The 54-year-old mother of three and resident of Modi’in- Maccabim-Re’ut has a master’s in education and has spent 27 years with the police, working almost entirely in the organization’s Manpower Branch.

Her resumé reads somewhat similarly to that of Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai, who in 2011 became the highest-ranked female officer ever in the IDF, when she was appointed to head the Manpower Branch.

The impact Gaziel’s appointment will have on her subordinates and the police as a whole remains to be seen, but it would be over-optimistic to expect a single appointment to provide even a temporary solution to the crisis facing the force.

As important as the Manpower Branch is to the police as an organization, it is far from being a marquee position in the public eye. Officers holding the rank of assistant-chief are typically district chiefs or division heads. A major appointment would be to see a female head of, say, the Tel Aviv District; any of the branches within Lahav 433, the elite unit often called (in the Israeli media) “The Israeli FBI”; or the police’s Investigations and Intelligence Branch.

The latter role is about as prominent you can get without being chief of police, but what about seeing a female officer in charge of the Central District – the largest in Israel, and home to some of Israel’s most crime-ridden cities? The district is also home to Ramle and Lod, where most of the highly publicized honor killings have happened in recent years. Seeing a woman tackling this crucial and high-profile police position could be a major move.

But is seeing a woman in charge of a district or branch really what it takes? Arguably, female appointments could have more of an impact lower down the food chain, if just in the right places.

In July 2013, police made 32 appointments of senior police officers to new positions. These included new subdistrict and deputy district heads, and new officers in top investigative positions. Only four went to women, including one in the police planning branch, one in the legal branch and one in the police disciplinary branch.

The four female promotions most prominently included Dep.-Ch. Yael Edelman – who was made the first-ever police adviser on women’s affairs.

According to police figures from last year, there were six women with the rank of deputy chiefs – the third-highest in the police force – 24 commanders and 91 chief superintendents. These are all nice numbers, if one doesn’t look too closely.

Though female officers make up nearly a quarter of the police force, out of 128 district, subdistrict and station commanders in Israel, only four are women. And while Ben-Gurion Subdistrict Ch.-Supt. Sigalit Bar-Tzvi is a highly regarded officer and Givatayim Station Ch.-Supt. Miriam Peled was an admired officer and detective in the Tel Aviv district’s investigative branch, neither are marquee posts, no more decorated than the positions held by Ch.-Supt. Eti Meirson of the Zichron Ya’acov station or Ch.-Supt. Anna Ben-Mordechai of the Mevaseret Zion station.

A look at the mid-level command may indicate where part of the problem for the Israel Police lies. There are simply nowhere near enough women with command positions in local stations and subdistricts, with positions of power and authority out in the field – where, for the most part, it’s a man’s world.

Standing in the freezing cold at the entrance to Jerusalem on Thursday night, national chief Danino was asked about the string of sex scandals, when all he really wanted to do was talk about police preparations for the snow that was set to fall. Moshe Nussbaum, Channel 2’s crime reporter, then inquired if in light of all of the scandals, maybe the time had come for him to resign.

Danino, to his credit, didn’t dodge the question. He said that as he sees it, resigning at this point would be a dereliction of duty, abandoning his post at a time of crisis, and that part of the reason we’re hearing about so many scandals is because of police efforts to expose sexual harassment within their organization.

He then repeated a statement he’s made a number of times recently: The scandals the public reads about in the press don’t represent the police force as a whole – and don’t have anything to do with the tens of thousands of police who fulfill their duty day in and day out, without committing sexual misconduct.

That sounds like wishful thinking.

Like it or not, the series of officers – including several district chiefs – who have resigned or been dismissed amid sexual misconduct probes are the face of the organization to the Israeli public.

Appointments like Gaziel’s may help change that image, but there is no magical solution or quick fix. It will take a long, multi-year process in which we will probably see many more cases come to light, and probably a number of police commanders – senior and mid-level – facing criminal charges.

Hopefully, when all is said and done, the police force will be seen as safer for women than it is today – and a point of pride for the public.

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