Crime downtrend in Israel may be misleading

Israel Police Photo; Shlomi Yosef

Adv. Dr. Dana Pugach, a leading expert in criminal justice, argues that there is a decrease in the reporting of crime, not a decrease in crime.

With all due respect to the police investigation in the case of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the investigations into the mayors suspected of bribery, and the controversial investigation against Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch, a former candidate for police superintendent, what is most important for most people is their personal security: being able to walk the streets and around shopping malls, sleep soundly at home, and travel on the roads without fear of violence, theft, harassment, etc.

This week, far from the public eye, Israel Police published its statistical annual for personal security in 2017. The figures appearing in the annual are surprisingly good. According to the police, there is a downtrend in the volume of crime in Israel, especially in crimes of property.

Israel Police report that a 21% decline in the volume of crime in the past decade and a 28% decline in the volume of serious crime. The decrease in per capita crime is even greater because the population has grown. The number of indictments has also fallen in the past decade.

Together with these optimistic data, Josh Breiner reported in "Haaretz" that the number of investigative cases for serious sex crimes, including rape, statutory rape, and forcible indecent acts, increased by 22%. The number of cases involving offenses opened was up 8.5% in 2016-2017. 4,282 investigations of this type were begun in 2017, the largest number in the past decade. This does not include less serious crimes such as indecent acts and sexual harassment. The increase in the number of serious sexual offense cases is probably due mainly to greater awareness among women of the importance of filing complaints created by the #Metoo campaign. In other words, more serious sex crimes are not being committed; more victims are daring to complain to the police and are willing the face the great difficulty involved in filing a complaint and testifying against the persons who attacked them.

Less crime or less reporting?

The downtrend in crime reported by the police is optimistic. The big question is whether these optimistic figures can be treated as objective. A dispute recently arose on Facebook between Haifa University Law Faculty Dean Prof. Oren Gazal-Ayal and Adv. Dr. Dana Pugach, a leading expert in criminal justice research and a lecturer in law who is a cofounder and head of the Noga Center for Victims of Crime.

Pugach argues that the police figures are misleading and that there is a decrease in the reporting of crime to the authorities, not a decrease in crime. This, of course, is a huge difference. Pugash says that there are no valid surveys of victims in Israel and that in Western countries where there are valid surveys of victims, figures show that there is no drop in crime.

"Victims surveys" are survey conducted from time to time by the Central Bureau of Statistics in which a representative sample of people are asked whether they were victims of crime during the past year. There are obviously methodological problems with these surveys, but they give an indication of trends in unreported crime.

Gazal-Ayal responded to Pugach's argument by saying that surveys of crime victims show that there is no decline in the extent of reporting, He stated that the most recent survey of victims in Israel showed that 78% of victims reported the crime to the police, a slight increase from the preceding year. Gazal-Ayal added that there was a clear fall in crimes with high reporting rates, such as home break-ins (in which reporting rates are high for reasons of insurance) and also a slight decline in the per capita number of murders (also an offense with nearly complete rates of exposure).

Pugach questioned whether it was correct to say that Israel was relatively free in crime in comparison with other countries in which surveys of victims are validated show completely different figures. "It is enough to see what happens with victims of violence and sex crimes to realize that the amazing statistic of 78% has no connection to them," she writes.

One person taking Gazal-Ayal's side in the argument is deputy chief public defender Adv. Dr. Hagit Lernau (she represented Elisha Haibatov, who was recently acquitted of murder by the Supreme Court after serving 12 years in prison). Lernau says that the most significant figure, which recurs repeatedly in surveys of crime victims, is stability in the proportion of reporting to the police. She says that it can therefore be concluded that a decrease in complains reflects a fall in the objective proportions of crime.

The neglected areas are less safe

Who is right about the validity of the data? It is hard to say. One thing, however, is indisputable: it is possible to walk safely in the streets and sleep peacefully without concern about break-ins, thieves, and other criminals in a great many areas in Israel. The police are apparently doing their job in these areas, but these are economically well-off areas. There are quite a few other areas, however, that are dangerous and which have been neglected by Israel until they have become enclaves of crime in the country. Property crime is common in southern Tel Aviv, enclaves of hard drug trade exist in Lod and Ramle, there are large areas in the Negev in which road traffic is out of control and agricultural thefts are a matter of routine, and in Arab villages in the Triangle (the eastern Sharon plain near the Green Line) and Wadi Ara (the area northeast of the Triangle), many residents keep firearms without a license and serious violence occurs almost daily.

It can be assumed that in those places, victims are inclined not to complain to the police, whether because they are alienated from the state and the police, because they are afraid to file a complaint, or they are unaware of their rights.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 12, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Israel Police Photo; Shlomi Yosef
Israel Police Photo; Shlomi Yosef
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