Montreal, Canada, 1990, St. Catherine's Street - A group of tourists walking in front of me suddenly started rushing forward. I grabbed my camera and hurried after them. For a moment I thought the current favorite movie star happened to be there or maybe some other famous person, because the tourists had taken their cameras out and were busy taking shots of the object in front of them. After a short while I realized that the object was a traffic cop standing on a little traffic island directing traffic. Only later that day did I learn that a photo of the policeman was considered an attraction, because Montreal in those days was considered a city without crime and it was rare to see even a single policeman in the street.
I told this story to the man I was meeting and asked him innocently if we might ever see a similar situation in our country, Israel, and what was he doing in this regard in order to bring it about. High commissioner Yochanan Danino is a former paratrooper who was appointed in 2011 to the head of the pyramid, as the supervisor in chief of the Israel Police. And, as befits the battle tradition of the paratroopers, he set out goals for himself and demanded that his subordinates follow suit. Danino set out a new direction for the Israel Police and called it the "path of the turning point" based on the book Turning Point by author Malcolm Gladwell. His purpose was to raise public trust in the police and to strengthen its sense of security. Danino had a triangle drawn up consisting of three elements: shoring up deterrence, providing services to the citizens, and the policeman at the center of the organizational response.
Danino took control of the police at what may have been one of the most turbulent and complex periods known to the state of Israel up to that time. The police under his command does not simply deal with handing out traffic tickets or classic crime, it also is involved with investigating the president of the state, the prime minister and others, money laundering on a wide scale, domestic as well as foreign threats, terror by criminals and terror by terrorists, and is in fact involved in all aspects of life that are relevant to a young nation that is still looking for its identity.
His human side is immediately apparent, and the secret of his charm in my opinion is the fact that this man is a man of words, and like me, he translates them into action. Why is this so important for me to mention? Because in my view, a person who reads books, bound books with pages filled with lines of print, is a sensitive person, a warm person who is not removed from his environment and has the ability to be tough on the one hand, but can be equally compassionate and help the defenseless on the other. And you, my faithful readers, who have by now come to discern my love for words and maybe also my sensitivity as a writer and poet, will certainly agree with me that a man like this, who has his admirers, will go far and will one day maybe also have those who will study his writings and will quote from them just as he quotes from the father of the Israeli nation, David Ben Gurion, who is identified , more than anyone else with anything having to do with the establishment of the State of Israel.
"Quality vs. quantity," Danino quoted from Ben Gurion's letters, explaining to me that the police is intent on improving the quality of its people and the quality of service to his public. And indeed, when I accompanied him on a visit to the police precinct in the city of Ma'aleh Edumim, a visit which is part of the "path of the turning point" that he created and which he does every day at a different precinct in order to check the results of the implementation of his program, I found policemen who were qualitative, intelligent and intellectual. There will be those for sure who will contradict me and say that not all are like that and there is yet much work to be done. But the difference is noticeable. Above all is the fact that Danino's policemen are proud of their units. This was apparent from what they said and they also confirmed this when I put the question to them.
I learned surprisingly that while the Israeli media is always trying to cover the gossip and the "yellow" news, the commissioner of police and his men are busy on a plan that returns young people who have committed crimes to normative behavior by erasing their criminal record and helping them get work and more. "With my current mandate, this is what I am doing and I try to do even more, then if I'm given more responsibility or more manpower, just imagine what else I will do," the commissioner said to me, and I thought of days in the future, and I was certain I would follow this paratrooper or join him if he would only ask.
I told the commissioner that he held his meetings in a room that was designed by me and at a desk that was designed and provided by me. Writers had to make a living somehow, no? The more we spoke, and the more time I spent with him and his senior staff, I discovered that the police department, in whose corridors I have been visiting for over twenty years, has indeed changed, and this change is apparently for the good. The conference room looks rather conservative and perhaps antiquated, but make no mistake.
Take for example the Ma'aleh Edumim precinct which has been voted an excellent precinct, and the "shai" district, whose captain, Commander Kobi Cohen, is in charge of what is possibly the most sensitive district in the whole police department because of its location on the seam between us and the Palestinians. As a result, the activity of the police and the border guard, which is a part of the police, merges with the activity of the Israeli army and the Palestinian population. Show me another place in the world in which the police is forced to meet such challenges. Show me another place like the SWAT unit which quietly protects us with daring activities, whose fighters are normally in harm's way when ever they go off on assignment.
Just a number of days after I visited with the commander in chief, a police officer was shot and killed on his way to a holiday meal by a Palestinian terrorist. He was shot in his car while with his wife and four children who escaped harm. This is an absurd reality which is unfortunately depicted in the bold colors of the blood innocent victims. And this is yet another challenge the police must face. That's why I asked the commander in chief another simple question. Why is each project called "a war"? Why is there a war on crime, a war on terror etc? Why don't we get the police involved in the education of our children and let us be an example to other nations. Let the police not just be involved in traffic safety but also to encourage children to be involved in banishing crime from the community, preventing it in the first place, in getting rid of violence as well as racism so that on one fine utopian day we will achieve the perfect society in which everyone is for everyone and people won't try frame up or incriminate other people they don't like. The commander answered that the police is already working in the schools, perhaps along lines like those I expressed. I'm sure that Danino would be happy if his policemen and women would also participate in educational, cultural and literary projects in the schools.
There are lots of jokes about policemen and policewomen and the person who is in charge of them. The Israeli police department is not a joke. It is a police department marching ahead, also on the level of technology. And I think that if were to be hit by a bomb, heaven forbid, it will the police that will have to deal with it all, and I know that the commander in chief agrees with me. This is probably one of the reasons that the subject of community policing is gaining ever more currency with the police since it is the job of the police to be increasingly concerned with the problems of the ordinary citizen and to connect between all the agencies that are supposed to help him.
We are at an open informal meeting between the commissioner and the police of the Ma'aleh Edumim precinct. Each policeman or woman is invited to speak his mind. They speak, he listens and responds. I am certain that everything that was brought up will be addressed. Apparently, there is no other police department in the world that is charged with the duties that the Israeli police department is. If it was said that the Israeli army is an army of the people, then I think I'm not missing the mark by calling the Israeli police, the "people's police". Show me a commander in chief like High Commissioner Yochanan Danino who headed a delegation of 185 police men and women at the end of April at the Auschwitz extermination camp that was built by the Nazis to destroy the Jewish people. He marched their next to the Polish high commissioner. And in those moments, as far as I'm concerned, he didn't just represent the Israeli Police, but all the citizens of the state as well as myself, and I am proud of him for that.
I'd love for people in our country one day to be proud of the police uniform just like Hollywood is proud of NYPD and LAPD uniforms. But I'd like our police to be more courteous and more educated, police of words not of nightsticks and inkpads for fingerprinting. Police that use their brains along with their hearts. That's why I suggested to the commissioner that he set up a limited citizens' advisory council made up of a number of citizens working in different fields who would sound off to him on serious affairs that are relevant to the general public and he would then take these opinions into consideration before making his decisions. And by the way, if I'm not mistaken, he listened to me and even wrote it down. When I showed him my latest book of poetry, he smiled and his eyes sparkled with excitement. A person like this who appreciates poetry, most certainly has a poet's soul. Maybe it's latent, maybe his uniform is deceptive, but he definitely appreciates the written word and its writer.