State, Israeli Police Discuss Community Policing, Modern Challenges

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The community policing roundtable included Montgomery County police chiefs, sheriffs and local officials, as well as Israeli National Police representatives. | Photo provided

From the use of body cameras to modernizing populations, the challenges police face have changed over the decades.

On Nov. 30, a group of Montgomery County police chiefs, sheriffs and local officials met to discuss how to address contemporary questions in policing. Three representatives from the Israeli police force joined them as part of a tour of United States law enforcement to learn more about how other organizations police their communities. The conversation included topics such as community outreach, the use of body cameras and how to respond to drug epidemics.

Barak Mordechai, Israeli National Police chief superintendent, said he was especially interested in learning how other police forces do community outreach. He said he might be interested in implementing some of the outreach programs he heard about at the roundtable, such as the “coffee with cops” or “picnic with police.”

“The main thing is the approach: how they approach the populations that they serve,” Mordechai said.

The other Israelis joining him were Israeli National Police commanders Dudi Hayun and Sigal Toledo.

Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, who hosted the roundtable, said he felt humbled that the Israelis chose Montgomery County as a place to visit.

“People are the same throughout the world, and policing challenges are the same throughout the world,” Kilkenny said. “To hear a perspective from thousands of miles away, and their experiences, only enriches ours.”

The Americans and Israelis compared some of the issues they face. For example, on the topic of drugs, Commissioner Chair Valerie Arkoosh talked about how the local police force is working with public health officials and hospitals to tackle the opioid epidemic.

Similar to the United States, marijuana is the most common illegal drug, and the Israeli police officers have recently started to see an increase in heroin usage.

One program Montgomery County has put in place allows individuals to bring in unused prescriptions to the police station so they can be safely destroyed. In one day in October, they collected almost 8 tons of medications.

“We had a similar thing with weapons,” Mordechai said. “We told everyone, ‘Anyone who has an illegal weapon, come to the police station. We won’t ask questions.’”

They also discussed how to deal with diverse communities, who have different needs and different historical relationships with police.

They talked about how police forces need to be sensitive to the issues of every population.

F. Richard Drumheller, Pottstown Borough Police Department chief, recalled one incident where police officers went inside of a mosque to check on it when they saw the door was open. They faced chastisement from the community for not taking off their shoes.

“Years ago, we would think, ‘Nobody called the police because nobody cared,’” Norristown Police Department Chief Mark Talbot said. “Now we say, ‘Nobody called the police because we didn’t build trust in that relationship in that neighborhood.’”

Mordechai said they similarly have to deal with diverse populations, which includes groups such as Ethiopian immigrants, Arabs and the Orthodox.

“I tell my officers you can’t argue with the feelings of people,” Mordechai said.

Another topic they touched on was the use of body cameras. In the United States, police forces have started to implement body cameras in response to public demand for them as a tool to reduce police brutality.

Mordechai said that Israel has introduced a pilot body camera program to enormous success in reducing attacks both to and from the police officer.

Without the body cameras, there is about one attack per day on a police officer, he said. In the four months of the pilot program, there was not a single attack.

“Different generations of police, we’ve changed how we do it,” said Christopher Ward, Whitemarsh Township Police Department chief.

“People don’t change. We’re now asking more of all of our officers between the ears than we did before, and it doesn’t always translate from my office to what people would like to see on the street.” 

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