Far Too Many Unnecessary Arrests
In December 2018, the government authorized the establishment of a public committee to assess the issue of arrests for investigative purposes (sometimes referred to as “pre-indictment investigations”). The committee was established as a result of ongoing criticism of the amount of arrests, the conditions in which those arrested are held, and the absence of sufficient alternatives to arrest.
● Despite legislation of the Detention Law in 1996, whose overt objective was to limit the use of detainment tools, the number of arrests made rose from 40,000 in 1998 to 61,000 in 2014.
● The upward trend has continued over the past decade, and exceeds the state’s population growth over the same period by far: the number of detainees increased by 31% from 2006 to 2017 (increasing from 45,884 detainees to 60,198), whereas over the same period, the population grew by a mere 23.5% (from 7,116,700 to 8,793,000).
● The rising number of arrests is further troubling in view of the crime rate’s steady decline over the past decade: a nearly 50% drop – from 67.3 cases per 1,000 people in 2006, to 35.3 in 2018.
● The percentage of “justified” arrests – arrests that led to an indictment – remain extremely low, currently standing at less than 50%.
In a position paper that we submitted to the detainment assessment committee on 6.2.2020, Attorney Anne Suciu referred to four issues addressed by ACRI, all of which illustrate the frequency and facility with which police deny people’s freedom:
1. Detainments during demonstrations: A large portion of the detainments we were exposed to during protests are not based on any legal grounds for detainment. Sometimes, protesters are detained after a declaration is made regarding an illegal gathering. At this stage, police will arrest protesters arbitrarily and indiscriminately, in order to disperse the protest and deter other demonstrators. Often, the “leaders” of the demonstration will be arrested, in hopes of quelling other protesters, and as a form of punishment. It should be emphasized that these are not arrests of violent protesters or of those jeopardizing public safety, and yet the grounds for arrest are deemed arbitrarily and indiscriminately, as “disruption of investigative proceedings” or “endangerment.” A blatant testimony of the extreme use of the means of arrest in such circumstances may be found in the percentage of arrests that led to indictment: only about 30% of those arrested under the offenses of “participation in an illegal gathering,” “participation in public disorder following dispersal orders,” and “participation in public disorder,” ever received indictments.
2. Detainment of minors in East Jerusalem: Over the past years, we have repeatedly reached out to the police and the Ministry of Justice regarding the violation of minors’ rights during arrest, who are residents of East Jerusalem. Yet to our dismay we have yet to receive a worthy response regarding the matter. Our efforts indicate that investigations of these minors, on the basis of offenses connected to disturbing the peace, regularly take place while they are held in detention, despite there often being no justification. In addition, the provisions of the Youth Law, which aim to guarantee special protection to minors in light of their unique characteristics, are not applied to minors from East Jerusalem, and the police regularly make exceptions to the law. Juvenile arrests in East Jerusalem are often carried out under harmful circumstances: in the wee hours of the morning, when the child is taken out of bed; in public when the child is taken from his school by armed officers in uniform; or when the child is dragged onto the street in front of neighbors by a large group of cops. In such cases among others, minors are often escorted through public spaces with their hands zip-tied, despite being surrounded by many officers, such that there is no justification for handcuffing.
3. False arrests for assaulting an officer: Another phenomenon to which we have been exposed is false arrests for assaulting or disturbing an officer, and falsely filling out arrest or incident reports, occasionally with the goal of covering up police violence. The report by the Committee to Eradicate Racism Against Israelis of Ethiopian Descent (Hebrew) led by Attorney Ami Palmor, published in July 2016, referred to how easily citizens may find themselves suspected of assaulting police officers following encounters with them.
4. Detainment due to poverty: The link between poverty, the needy, and involvement in illegal activities is based on research and data gathered globally. In Israel, too, the Central Bureau of Statistics’ data indicates that people living in poverty are twice as likely to be part of criminal proceedings as the population at large. There are various explanations for this phenomenon. Among others, criminal law contains a long list of provisions, which impose restrictions on conduct in public spaces, alongside a host of municipal bylaws that also determine what is permitted and prohibited in the public sphere. Cumulative worldwide experience indicates that enforcement of these provisions disproportionately impacts people living in poverty, those who use public spaces to sleep, panhandle, and more.
We further claimed in the position paper that police must gather statistical data according to different parameters that pertain to the identities of suspects and detainees (such as ethnicity, religion, race, and place of residence). The ability to segment data by different groups within the general population is critical to identifying phenomena that are otherwise almost undetectable, most notably over-policing and disproportionate enforcement toward minority groups (profiling).
Arrests for Investigative Purposes – ACRI Position Paper (Hebrew), 6.2.2020