'Situation better than ever,' top cop downplays southern Israel crime surge

Police chief chides 'people trying to create a feeling that the south is on fire', says has to 'flood the ground with officers I don't have' to improve public sentiment around issue

Itamar Eichner, Hassan Shaalan|
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai claimed on Sunday that coverage of southern Israel's crime problem was blown out of proportion and that the situation there was "better than ever."
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  • Shabtai made the remarks while speaking to ministers during the weekly Cabinet meeting as he presented an overview of Israel Police's battle against crime and violence in the country's Arab sector, which has claimed 58 lives since the beginning of 2022.
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    רב-ניצב יעקב שבתאי מפכ''ל המשטרה
    רב-ניצב יעקב שבתאי מפכ''ל המשטרה
    Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai
    (Photo: Israel Police)
    During the meeting, the police chief extensively covered the crime situation in the southern Negev region and leveled criticism at "people trying to create a feeling that the south is on fire," adding that "the situation today is better than ever, plain and simple."
    Israel's sparsely populated southern region has long been bedeviled by pockets of organized crime, with rogue elements within the local Bedouin population increasingly involved in criminal activity that successive governments were accused of failing to tackle.
    "There are four [police] headquarters in the south, but one cannot argue with sentiments," Shabtai continued. "In order to answer for these sentiments, I have to flood the ground with officers I don't have. A woman who goes out for a jog feels that she is being watched."
    The minister overseeing law enforcement, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, told fellow Cabinet members that there were plans to add nine new local police stations in southern Arab communities and hire hundreds more officers.
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    ישיבת הממשלה
    ישיבת הממשלה
    Public Security Minister Omer Barlev
    (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch)
    Police chief Shabtai also called for additional budgets to tackle the south's sprawling protection racket problem, wherewith criminals threaten harm to individuals or their businesses if they fail to pay a certain amount of money.
    "You want to catch more? Give us the resources and we'll catch more," he told ministers. "In 2021, Israel Police confiscated NIS 1.25 billion from crime families. I don't know what will be left after the courts.
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