Police head draws ire with call to end anonymous harassment claims

Police head draws ire with call to end anonymous harassment claims

Roni Alsheich says anonymous letters being used to ‘settle accounts’ within force, but internal investigations unit says it will keep checking complaints

Police Chief Roni Alsheich and his family at a welcome ceremony at the National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Police Chief Roni Alsheich and his family at a welcome ceremony at the National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A storm has erupted over a report that Israel’s police chief called for the police investigation department to no longer probe anonymous allegations against police officers, including claims of sex crimes.

While police officials defended the order, first reported by Channel 2 news Sunday, as necessary to put an end to “score-settling” within the force, the internal investigations department said it would continue to accept anonymous complaints. Women’s groups criticized the call by police chief Roni Alsheich.

On Monday, Alsheich stood behind the measure, Channel 2 reported.

“Anonymous letters have become part of a culture for settling accounts in the police force. So from now on, the police will not deal with anonymous letters that raise suspicions about crimes committed by officers,” Alsheich told a conference of female police officers in the city of Beit Shemesh last week to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

Alsheich spoke immediately after the women’s affairs adviser to the Israel Police, who had said that anonymous complaints were among the basic tools used in investigations, Channel 2 reported.

Law enforcement officers immediately slammed Alsheich’s remarks.

“This is our daily bread, we can’t be without it,” said one source quoted by Channel 2, who added that it was an anonymous claim that had kick-started the case against former Jerusalem district police chief Nissan Shaham, who was dismissed in late 2013 over allegations of sexual harassment, breach of trust, fraud and indecent acts.

The police force has been plagued in recent years with allegations of sexual harassment and other crimes carried out by cops.

The Justice Ministry’s police investigation department rushed to counter the police chief’s remarks, saying in a statement: “It is within our authority to investigate complaints of suspicion of criminal activity by a police officer. All complaints that come to the department will be investigated and checked as usual, as has been done until today.”

Eran Shendar, a former state attorney and retired head of the police investigations department, told Army Radio that while he had been involved in many complaints by police officers, he could not recall any that were completely baseless.

“There were things that had been inflated, there were things that could be interpreted this way or that way, but there was nothing that had been invented, among other things because people know what a process they have to go through when they write letters like these,” he said.

Alsheich took over as police chief in early December 2015. One of his first decisions was to return Maj. Gen. Roni Rittman to his post as head of the the police anti-corruption watchdog Lahav 433, despite allegations of sexual harassment that had been leveled against him.

File: Head of the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit Roni Rittman, arrives at the Police Investigation Department, Jerusalem, December, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
File: Head of the Lahav 433 police anti-corruption unit Roni Rittman arrives at the police investigation department, Jerusalem, December 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Rittman, 51, was accused of two instances of sexual harassment, including kissing a female subordinate against her will five years ago. He had denied the allegations and said that a senior officer in the Israel Police’s intelligence unit was trying to frame him. During the course of the investigation, Rittman was put on mandatory leave.

Then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein decided to close the case against Rittman and not to bring criminal charges, due to the long period of time that had elapsed since the alleged offenses, the relatively minor nature of the offenses, and the circumstances surrounding the timing of the recent complaint — the female officer and a senior intelligence officer who backed her up were involved in an ongoing dispute with Rittman, reports said.

But Weinstein had passed the testimony material to Alsheich for him to consider whether disciplinary measures should be taken and had recommended that Rittman should be moved to a post outside of the investigations bureau, Haaretz noted on Sunday.

The decision to close the file did not imply that sexual harassment had not taken place, nor that the allegations were a lie, Haaretz reported. The main consideration had been the amount of time — some five years — since the alleged harassment took place in 2011.

Haaretz revealed Sunday that Alsheich had reportedly said behind closed doors: “I don’t need to sacrifice him [Rittman].”

Seven of the police’s 18 major generals, one rank below the police commissioner in the chain of command, either resigned or were fired in the past two and a half years for inappropriate or even criminal behavior. Five of them were brought down by sexual harassment complaints.

Former police chief Yohanan Danino, whose term ended last July, had called for a large effort to root out corruption and sexual harassment within the force.

Danino was credited with creating a system to better deal with claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, after seeing the results of an army survey that found that one in four women completing their mandatory service in the police force reported experiencing sexual harassment, Haaretz reported at the time.

File: Israeli chief of police Yohanan Danino seen at a meeting with the Israeli Electoral Committee, February 11, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Yohanan Danino seen at a meeting with the Israeli Electoral Committee, February 11, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In November, the police investigation department notified former deputy police commissioner Nissim Mor that he was likely to be charged with sexual harassment, committing an indecent act and deception, and breach of trust. The decision to indict Mor was pending a hearing.

He had been fired from the police in January 2015 after being accused of sexually harassing and assaulting a policewoman, as well as maintaining inappropriate relationships with other female subordinates.

Also in January 2015, Judea and Samaria District Commander Kobi Cohen announced his resignation after admitting to an improper relationship with a subordinate officer.

Cohen quit after being questioned over suspicions that he had maintained romantic ties with a low-ranking female officer and had made decisions regarding her positions that were based on a conflict of interest.

In February, top anti-corruption police official Menashe Arviv resigned after 36 years of service in the police rather than face allegations, which he denied, that he had received thousands of dollars and other assistance from a rabbi who has since gone to prison for corruption.

Central District chief Bruno Stein resigned after he was spotted at a party thrown by Ronel Fisher, an Israeli attorney under investigation for allegedly bribing multiple police officials.

read more: