High Crime Rates and Depleted Police Resources: What's Happening in Israeli City of Be'er Sheva?
According to reports, the city, which is home to more than 200,000 people, only has 300 police officers working in shifts. In addition, during the night it only has eight patrol cars, meaning that the chances of stopping culprits are slim to none.
The largest city in southern Israel, Be'er Sheva, has traditionally been associated with a rich history and being a family-friendly vacation destination.
Now, however, recent headlines suggest that it is gradually turning into a crime hub.
For weeks, the Israeli media has been showcasing incidents involving young women being attacked, properties being damaged, and shooting sprees between gangs and warlords have become a regular phenomenon. Some outlets have even suggested that Israel has lost control over the south.
Amnon Yosef, a spokesman for the municipality of Be'er Sheva's, is aware of the Israeli media accusations levelled at his city. He acknowledges the existence of the problem, but says the issue has largely been exaggerated.
"Of course, recently we have been hearing about attacks, wild driving, and other crimes but I reject the accusations that the crime rates in the city are high. The situation here is similar to what other Israeli cities have been witnessing".
In a way, this is true. Be'er Sheva is not the only Israeli city that has seen an upswing in crime and violence. Per a recent report, the past several months have registered a 22 percent spike in the amount of illegal weapons holders
all around the country.
Another report released by the Knesset Research and Information Centre revealed that crime rates in southern Israel, in general, make up 20 percent of all cases
and are considered to be the highest in the country.
It is hard to pinpoint the reasons behind this phenomenon. Some are pinning the blame on the local Bedouin community, a number of whose members have long been linked to organised crime. Others explain the surge by the rise in tensions between Jews and Arabs, a situation that became particularly strained during Israel's recent measures in Gaza - "Operation Guardian of the Walls". And many accuse the police of failing to address these burning issues.
Police Unable or Unwilling to Help?
Reports suggest that Israeli police have been struggling to cope with the situation in the south as a whole, and in Be'er Sheva in particular. The city, which is home to 220,000 residents and provides services to 750,000 people who reside in the area, only has 300 police officers working in shifts and who are barely able to provide a timely answer to residents seeking assistance.
The same reports suggest that equipment is also lacking. During the night, Be'er Sheva only operates eight patrol cars. Surveillance cameras only exist at main road intersections, and the city lacks a security hotline
that would provide residents with immediate help.
Yosef says the police "are doing everything they can to provide the residents of the city with stability and security". But he agrees, just as many others in the area, that the resources they have are way too limited, and they need to be increased.
Over the years, the Israeli police have seen a boost in resources and funds, and in the last decade, their budget has doubled, reaching more than $4 billion
. However, experts warn that the distribution of money was done improperly and unevenly, with the end result being that Israeli citizens, especially those in areas with relatively high crime rates, haven't noticed a change on the ground.
Taking Control Over Their Own Future
It was due to these depleted resources that the Be'er Sheva municipality has set up its own patrol units. They are operational 24/7 and give a boost to the existing police forces. But their power is also limited.
"Unlike in New York, where the mayor has control over the police forces, in Israel, the police do not answer to municipalities. The way it works here is that we come to them with demands and requests and they break their heads over how much funds and resources should be allocated", Yosef says.
The Be'er Sheva municipality, says the spokesman, is constantly approaching the relevant government bodies, asking them for assistance. Their demands are often answered but for the residents of the city, this is hardly enough.
Residents have set up a number of volunteer organisations that aim to patrol the city, escorting women, children, and the elderly or helping law enforcement to arrest culprits.
Many have even taken to the streets to protest
against the tenuous situation in the city, while others have decided to simply pack up and leave, feeling they lacked security. But Yosef reassures that Be'er Sheva, which in recent years has seen more than $2 billion in investments, will continue to develop the city, attract new residents, and make sure that their security is maintained.