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  • ACRI

Retracted Information in Police Procedures Regarding Crowd Control Measures

The Freedom of Information Act requires the police to publish all the procedures according to which it operates, but for years it has neglected to do so. Following a June 2020 ruling on our petition on the matter, the updated procedures were recently published on the police website. However, it appears that the police retracted much of the significant information of public interest regarding procedures regulating the use of crowd control measures.

The concealed clauses primarily concern the manner in which the means are used, the dangers inherent in them, and the limitations of their use. For example, regarding the procedure for use of skunk water canons, data was concealed on the permissible distance at which they may be sprayed; as for the procedure on use of sponge-tipped bullets, data was retracted on the minimum permissible range of use, and restriction to solely fire toward the lower body; and the procedure for club use omitted the prohibition on striking delicate bones and the upper body. In lieu of the concealed clauses, a brief explanation noting "this section has been deleted in light of non-disclosure of modes and means of operation." In some cases, there is nearly no visible information of significance regarding the procedures as they were published, for the public to exercise its right to review them.

On February 9, 2022, along with the The Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel, we filed a freedom of information petition against the police, demanding that the procedures be published in full, without retractions. In the petition, we chose to focus on three means that the police routinely and most commonly use to disperse demonstrations: batons, stun grenades, and skunk water canons. We claimed that these retracted clauses prevent citizens from critical access to the information required to protect their human rights of bodily integrity, life, freedom of expression, and protest. It prevents citizens harmed by the exercise of police authority from knowing whether police means are used in accordance with procedures, or in violation of them. Thus citizens are denied the opportunity to contact the police in the event that these procedures are violated. In addition, concealing information prevents public oversight of police activities amid demonstrations and protests, upon use of sensitive authority with the potential for genuine risk to bodily integrity and life.

The petition further claims that such police conduct violates its obligation to publish procedures in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, and that the retracted information does not meet the legal stipulations put forth. We claimed that there is no causal correlation whatsoever between the disclosure of information concealed in the procedures, and police capacity to properly perform their work in enforcing order amid protests. Even should such a correlation exist, it would not meet the stringent criteria of "genuine harm" to enforcement actions.

On October 2, 2022, the court accepted the petition, and ordered the police to publish its procedures regarding the use of skunk water canons, batons, and stun grenades within 45 days – without omissions or deletions. The court ruled that the retracted information is of great importance to both individuals and the public, and that its concealment deprives the public of the right to objectively and professionally evaluate police activity. The court rejected police claims that disclosure of information on its use of means of force is liable to harm its effectiveness. Following the verdict, the procedures were published in full.

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