Israeli towns hiring private firms to patrol teens

All in the family: [Photo caption: Jews looting Arab property 1948.] Teenage violence in schools is a problem in Israel; the first major study on teenage crime in the nation by T. Horowitz and M. Amir in 1981 indicated three major forms of violence in Israeli schools: theft, breaking and entering, and vandalism. WELL,  DUH!

haaretz  It's around midnight, and a group of teenage girls is sitting in a public park in the town of Ganei Tikva. A car with a flashing orange light on the roof pulls up and out steps Amit Gisman from the security firm Moked Emun. He's in uniform, wearing a police duty belt with pistol and handcuffs.

"Okay, okay, we're going!" says one of the girls. "Five minutes. Just let me finish my cigarette and I'm outta here."

It's just an ordinary summer night patrol for Gisman, who drives between the town's parks from 11 P.M. to 4 A.M. Occasionally he is responding to a call from neighbors, but mainly he chases away the noisy teens he runs into on his rounds. "The purpose is deterrence only," Gisman stresses.

Gisman is one of many security officers at private firms, hired by towns to patrol popular spots where teens gather on summer nights. It's a growing trend among local authorities.

"It's a very worrying sign," says retired District Court Judge Saviona Rotlevy, who chaired the Rotlevy Public Committee on Children and the Law in Israel. "The state failed. Instead of taking responsibility, providing places of culture and entertainment where children can spend time instead of drinking in parks, the authorities take a step whose purpose is to frighten," Rotlevy says.

"Why did he drive us away? Are we supposed to just go home and sit around, or go into the orchards and get raped? Where can we go?" a 16-year-old girl from Ganei Tikva asks. A 15-year-old in a nearby park explains the modus operandi. "They chase us out so we run and then come back. All we're doing is sitting here after returning from preparations for Scouts camp," she says, adding, "it's a game of cat-and-mouse until they start threatening to give us fines and then we really do leave," she explains.

Figures compiled by police actually show a decline during the summer months of violence perpetrated by teens, in part due to the greater number of resources devoted to security. The number of criminal cases opened against teens declined by 7.2 percent from 2000 to 2010, and 11 percent fewer juvenile cases were opened in January-May 2012 than in the equivalent period in 2011. Most significantly, while in January 2010 an all-time high for any single month of 3,179 juvenile crime cases were opened, the monthly average for July and August of the same year was just 2,349 - less than the monthly average for that year.

Greater media coverage and a few high-profile incidents may be behind the public perception of rising teen crime. An urgent meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, as well as the Education, Culture and Sports Committee, were called after a number of teenagers assaulted a man in Ra'anana who asked them to be more quiet.

And in the wake of the murder last month of Gadi Vichman, a Be'er Sheva man who asked a group of teens to stop making noise outside his apartment the Ministry of Public Security ordered the consolidation of all emergency forces in the city under a single dispatch center.

The directive calls for extending the City without Violence program, which was first introduced in 2004 in Eilat and has been adopted by around 100 Israeli municipalities.

On the national level the program is headed by a steering committee with representatives from more than half a dozen ministries and state agencies. In Be'er Sheva it will involve close cooperation and coordination among the police, municipal security and supervision departments and several community patrol organizations. These include participants from the university community, parents' groups, emergency centers and anti-drug organizations in the city, among others. The aim is to coordinate the response to all calls to the city's emergency number (106 ) in an effective and timely manner.

"The murder of Gadi Vichman was from our perspective an extreme act that requires us to sit and think about appropriate responses to the new situation," the director of the City Without Violence program, Dani Shahar, told Haaretz. "The goal is to consolidate all of the forces in all the areas in order to track down the main problems in each locality, ... to address developing incidents and to prevent the next one," Shahar said.

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