Former Police Chief Now Lectures Here on Crime and Criminals


Israeli police solve from 60%-80% of all serious crimes—murder, rape, etc.—committed in the country, a percentage of bringing criminals to justice that is high compared to other countries around the world.

That contention is made by a retired chief of police and active criminologist who has gone from investigating crimes to teaching others how to solve them.

He is Dr. Joshua Caspi, who has a Ph.D. in criminology and who lectures in the Dept. of General Studies. Caspi gives credit to the Israel Police’s intelligence network for this high rate of serious-crime solving. “Israel police know who most of the criminals are, and not too many years go by without identifying new criminals,” he said.

Crimes against property, which he said constitutes about 75 percent of the crime in the Jewish state, has a solution rate of about 30%, about the same as in other Western countries.

If statistics come easily to the man who almost became the country’s top cop but lost out to a former airforce general, it is that Caspi recently published a 500-page tome (in Hebrew), Crime and Criminals in Israel, 1948-1998. The facts and figures that he compiled make it a kind of “everything you wanted to know about” type of work that he calls his contribution to Israel’s Jubilee year.

To get to the man behind the statistics, Focus asked Caspi, who once headed the National Police Investigations Department, about some of his more well-known cases. He described two examples of patient team work that paid off. One was the grenade killing of a Peace Now adherent, Emil Grunzweig, during a protest march in the early 1980s. Caspi formed a 50-man investigation unit that worked on the case for a full year, during which time the police came under criticism for not solving the incident. It seemed likely that the motive for the killing was political, but there were no real clues. Then one day he received word that a criminal had sold a grenade to a right-wing activist. Thereafter, it did not take long for the perpetrator to be apprehended.

Another case, in the mid-1980s, involved a group of Jewish fanatics who wanted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, which sits on the site traditionally ascribed to the “binding of Isaac.” Caspi even today breathes a sigh of relief that a watchman of the wakf—the Islamic trustee organization responsible for the holy sites of that faith—discovered a pouch loaded with explosives. Caspi once again set up an investigation committee to work on the meager evidence at its disposal: a ladder, some rope, the pouch, and the explosives.

A name on the pouch had been erased, but the police laboratory was able to restore it. The trouble was that 300 people were found to have that name. Patient questioning led to its owner, who told the police he had given the bag to a friend. The friend, it turned out, belonged to a gang of five unstable characters that had planned the act; two of them were eventually sent to a mental institution.

One of the quickest cases that Caspi solved helped the American FBI. He had been appointed the Israel Police representative in the United States with the title of consul. In his first week in America, he learned of a forgery case that the Americans were trying to break. Intelligence he received from Israel led to the capture in one night of the forgers at their printing plant in New York and to their Israeli partners in Ashdod.

The Roumanian-born criminologist, who received his B.A. in Middle East History from the University of Haifa, would rather answer questions about crime statistics than talk about himself. The fastest-growing crime has been auto theft, with Israelis and Palestinians cooperating on the stealing-selling front, but not at all in solving-locating the stolen vehicles. Every third car in the territories, where you can buy a late model for as low as NIS 1,00-1,500 ($250-$400), is probably a stolen car, he comments.

Drugs in Israel have become an increasing problem, he says with concern, claiming that 7% of Israeli adults and 10% of the youth use forbidden substances. Hashish (marijuana) is smuggled in from Lebanon, while Turkey and Thailand are the sources for heroine. He expresses rage against the Trance parties, which he says are not innocent get-togethers, but youth acid parties, the atmosphere filled with inciteful rave music and heavy with the clouds of marijuana, LSD, and Ecstacy, the last from Holland.

In 1998, there were 16,000 police files open on drug-related cases, including 9 murders. Jewish Israelis are not the only community affected. Some 40% of all those imprisoned for drug offenses are Muslims, which is more than double their percentage of the population. Druzes, normally law-abiding, have gotten into the game, too, in the last decade, especially with smuggling drugs across the border.

Caspi does not see any mafia in Israel, Russian or otherwise. There may be groups that come together on an ad hoc basis for a specific crime, he says, but there is no organized crime of the godfather-type trying to penetrate establishment institutions or increase their take from criminal activities.

While admitting that underworld figures from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Israel under the Law of Return and that Israel has no law against money laundering, he states that the percentage of crime committed by Russian immigrants does not exceed their proportion of the population. The academic in him causes Caspi to remark that Israel undergoes the same crime processes as the U.S. insofar as its ethnic groups.

Israel has a crime rate of 5,000 reported complaints per 100,000 population, compared with 10,800 complaints for Britain and 11,000 for Sweden. Israel’s murder rate is 2 cases per 100,000 population, similar to the rate in many European countries but much below America’s 8 cases. Still, the former police officer complains that Israeli courts hand down sentences that are too light. Convicted criminals, he charges, do not get the maximum penalty they deserve.

That his interest is in meting out justice, not in the suppression of civil rights, is shown by his attitude toward the new law limiting the detention of suspects to 24 hours, after which the police have to make a formal arrest or let them go. Many law enforcement officials, arguing they are being shackled in their fight against crime, want a return to the 48-hour detention rule. Caspi does not agree, saying that a person should be held only if there is probable cause of a crime.

The lecturer, who was perhaps the first Israeli to earn a doctorate in criminology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, set up the first Israeli program in the field at Beit Beryl. After 40 years of fighting crime from both behind a badge and behind a book, Caspi points to the 1990s as when interest in the discipline here took off and salary conditions made law enforcement a more attractive vocation.

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