For Israel's Volunteer Police, Many Powers But Little Oversight : Parallels Most of the police you see on the streets in Israel are actually citizen volunteers. They outnumber the country's 30,000 professional officers.
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For Israel's Volunteer Police, Many Powers But Little Oversight

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For Israel's Volunteer Police, Many Powers But Little Oversight

For Israel's Volunteer Police, Many Powers But Little Oversight

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now we're going to spend a few minutes looking at security concerns in the Middle East. In Israel, police are getting a lot of help from volunteers. In fact, more volunteers serve in Israel's police force than paid staff officers. As NPR's Emily Harris reports from Tel Aviv, the vast number of volunteers, what they do and why shows the tight connection between security and society in Israel.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: By day, Jonathan Javor is a political strategist in Tel Aviv. By night, two or three times a month, he volunteers as an Israeli cop. He loves it.

JONATHAN JAVOR: You're contributing to the security of the country, to the security of the people. There's a really good sense of fulfillment out of it.

HARRIS: One high point for him - catching a car thief in action. After 20 hours of training, including eight at a shooting range, volunteers can go out with a gun and a badge. They're briefed along with paid officers. They're on the radio with headquarters during their shift. They can detain people, call for backup and everything else.

JAVOR: I was out on patrol the other night, and we had five volunteers out - four or five. That's an extra two vehicles out on patrol. It helps. It really helps. It makes a huge difference.

HARRIS: Israel has calculated that the hours its more than 33,000 part-time volunteers contribute equals roughly an extra 2,000 full-time cops. That's a 6 percent boost to the force. Many U.S. police departments also use volunteers, but on a much more limited scale. Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld says here volunteers must be ready to handle anything.

MICKY ROSENFELD: They could be in Jerusalem looking for stolen vehicles. And they might have to confront a terrorist attack that can take place at the same time, when they're on same shift.

HARRIS: When an American was stabbed to death near Tel Aviv in March, a volunteer Israeli police officer shot and killed the Palestinian attacker. In a handful of different cases, volunteer officers have killed suspects, but there's little criticism for the volunteers, in part because volunteerism is often cited by Israelis themselves as key to their country's formation.

Erella Shadmi is one who does have concerns. She retired from Israel's police force two decades ago and now teaches about security and human rights.

ERELLA SHADMI: It's OK. I'm not against volunteers. I want them to do it very, very carefully.

HARRIS: She believes there's not enough retraining for the many former soldiers who volunteer as civilian police. But police say they value veterans as volunteers because they're already trained to handle weapons and emergencies. Like the military, Israel's police answers to national politicians, not mayors as in the U.S.

Badi Hasisi, director of Hebrew University's Institute of Criminology, says this structure is good for national security - Israel's highest priority. But he warns that centralized control may distance police from local and minority communities.

BADI HASISI: In Israel, I would identify the ultra-Orthodox Jews. I'd identify the Arab community. I would identify the Ethiopian Jewish migrant - that they have issues with the - let's say, the dominant group in society. And who you end up clashing with? The police.

HARRIS: This spring, Israel appointed a Muslim Arab Israeli as a deputy police commissioner for the first time. But in the ranks, there's hardly any diversity, and that goes for the volunteers, as well. A recent government report criticized the volunteer program for recruitment that does not match force needs. Poor basic training and too little attention paid to the complexities of giving law enforcement authority to volunteers. Israeli-American David Weisburd, an internationally recognized policing expert, says this perhaps loose or improvised approach to managing volunteer officers reflects some of the country's character.

DAVID WEISBURD: In Israel, sometimes - it's a very small country faced with many big problems. And in that context, some things become more informal than they might be in the States. And sometimes that works, and sometimes it leads to problems.

HARRIS: Israeli police overall need more training as civil servants, he says. Some of that is under way. But when officers, paid or volunteer, are seen as contributing to Israel's security, Weisburd says, it's easy for most Israelis to forgive mistakes. For Javor, volunteers like him are playing a special role.

JAVOR: You can still be a pioneer here. You can still contribute. You can still build.

HARRIS: And Israeli police say they could not operate without their volunteers. Emily Harris, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

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