Police erase tickets for Palestinians, tourists

State comptroller presents serious failures in traffic cameras, police conduct. Among others, 50,000 serious charges against drivers erased.

Ido Ben-Porat ,

Speed camera
Speed camera

The state comptroller, retired judge Yosef Shapira, has released a special audit on the establishment of an electronic camera system and the enforcement of traffic laws.

The report exposes a systematic failure that prevented the camera network from operating properly, despite the substantial resources invested in it. More seriously, Shapira revealed fundamental and ethical flaws in the way police treat tickets and indictments given to senior police officers.

It should first be mentioned that, already in 2005, the government approved the placement of 300 digital traffic cameras, known as Project A3. The camera system began functioning in March 2012. Its first goals were to increase road safety, reduce the number of fatalities, and improve the traffic culture by increasing the deterrence. Sadly, over the past few years there has been a significant increase in the number of traffic accidents.

Main deficiencies according to the audit:

  • Due to a lack of systematic preparations by court administrators, the Ministry of Public Safety and the police to transfer indictments from Project A3 to the courts without delay, and due to the lack of traffic judges, 50,000 indictments for serious traffic violations were erased.
  • In order to stop indictments from piling up without a court date and thus being deleted, police limited the level of enforcement on many cameras, making it so they only recorded drivers traveling at twice the speed limit, or in some cases five times the speed limit. These changes resulted in a significant portion of the cameras not fulfilling their purpose.
  • Police automatically deleted tickets and indictments when Project A3 cameras recorded tourists or PA-registered vehicles breaking the law.
  • The audit found significant ethical failures in the way police handled tickets and indictments that were given to other officers. This led to the deletion of hundreds of tickets for being too old. By February 2015, about 53 percent of tickets given to police vehicles were still open. More than half of these cases occurred in the years 2012 and 2013.
  • Even more serious was the way that tickets given to officers ranked Commander and higher, whose cases only the head of the Traffic Branch or the Chief Commissioner were authorized to handle. These senior officers who received tickets or indictments for speeding reported that the tickets were given while they were participating on operations and so most were canceled. However, an investigation was unable to link the operations named to the circumstances in which the officers were recorded speeding. This approach is inconsistent with proper conduct and falls short of what is expected of a public body tasked with enforcing the law.
  • The Israel Prison Service (IPS) refused to give drivers' information to police on about 100 instances in which IPS vehicles violated traffic laws, and so prevented the enforcement of the law o these drivers and ultimately led to the tickets being canceled.
  • By the end of the investigation, Project A3 raised more than 100 million shekels ($25 million US). Despite the failures, the Public Security Ministry ordered an additional 40 cameras for 2015.

According to the State comptroller, the treatment of traffic violations by police officers, particularly the giving of inaccurate reports in order to cancel tickets, presents a bleak picture of the organized culture prevailing among Israeli police.

The findings on this issue, along with the breakdowns in the police culture that came up in earlier investigations by the comptroller's office and the cases that have been recently exposed to the public, particularly those connected to senior officers, create a disturbing picture of police conduct.

Accordingly, the comptroller ruled that it is not enough to fix the faults raised by this report in particular, but instead the entire police culture must be overhauled. "The police commanders and the Minister of Public Safety would do well to pay special attention to these issues," Shapira emphasized.