It’s the cost of housing, Dorothy: Or why there is a severe shortage of police recruits for Jerusalem

Jerusalem has a serious problem. Too few men and women are responding to police recruiting efforts, leaving the nation’s capital with a serious shortage of local police officers. The explanation being bandied about is patently absurd, namely that potential cops are wary of serving in a city with such a significant set of security challenges; that the demands on officers to work long shifts and over weekends is somehow unique to this city, and a barrier to recruitment.

As a volunteer cop who routinely drives a police cruiser through the streets, alleys and tourist magnets of this unique metropolis, I have a somewhat more realistic perspective on the situation. Indeed, the shortage of local police is not something new. Most Jerusalemites are unaware that a significant percentage of our cops on the beat do not live anywhere near Jerusalem. A great many are courageous Druze officers who spend long hours on Egged buses to reach our city for two and three days shifts before returning to their families in the Galilee for 24 hours. Many others are Jewish policemen and women who are shipped in from Beer Sheva, Afula, Tiberias and other points north south and west in order to augment the very lean local force as necessary. What’s more, as often as not, the cop on the beat is a woefully underqualified volunteer like myself, who helps fill the void without compensation of any kind.

Jerusalem’s security issues are not the obstacle to recruitment. They might even be a draw. Police work in this city is vastly more intriguing than in secondary towns where the most interesting thing that can happen is a car crash, a drug bust, or a dispute between neighbors. Jerusalem is where the real action is with all the challenges one expects of a major metropolis that is a center of international intrigue and a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Young men and women of conscription age are literally standing in line to serve with the Border Patrol in Jerusalem precisely because of our unique circumstances.

So then, what is keeping Israel’s finest from flocking to the holy city? Anybody? Anybody?

The answer is obvious. The cost of housing. What cop in their right mind would choose to live in a city where a basic family apartment costs three quarters of a million dollars? How exactly is one supposed to afford the mortgage on a policeman’s salary?

The Israeli Police is a national rather than local organization. Unlike cities such as New York or London or Toronto, Jerusalem has no police department of its own. If it did, the municipality would have to come to grips with economic reality and cough up a salary scale that is commensurate with local conditions. However, as a national police force, there is no way to create a pay scale for Jerusalem that is different from that in Safed, Beersheba or Ashkelon — cities where the cost of housing is a fraction of what it is in Jerusalem. Hence any cop who chooses to uproot his or her family and move to the capital should be deemed mentally unfit to serve.

But what about local recruits? After all Jerusalem is Israel’s most densely populated city, surely there is local talent available to staff up our police? Well, Dorothy, the answer is no, there is not. Some 50% or more of Jerusalemites who are Israeli citizens are haredim. Haredim are not available for recruiting of any kind. With the few precious exceptions who volunteer for Hatzalah and Zaka, haredim have a visceral aversion to that four letter word W-O-R-K, let alone work for a conventional salary.

The question, of course, is how can haredim afford to live in Jerusalem? Alas haredinomics is not only a dismal science, it is very opaque, and remains impenetrable to us ordinary mortals. How so many congenitally unemployed haredim, through some kabalistico-talmudic cocktail of fiscal hi-jinx, manage to buy a flat for each of their numerous children is something that can only be learned through many years of rigorous schmoozing in yeshiva corridors amidst the vapors of an endless chain of Marlboros. Our job as taxpayers is not to question, but simply to shell out. It is the burden of the ordinary citizen to empower cynical political parties to cobble together their nefarious coalitions by acting as enablers to what can charitably be called history’s most brazen act of legalized collective embezzlement. Of course our involuntary contributions are not the sole fiscal underpinning of haredi life, merely the most discernible one.

Other than haredim, there is another group that offers no possible solution. Some 10,000 homes in Jerusalem belong to absentee owners who deign to drop by for Simhat Torah and other special occasions. The rest of the year these luxury home are either fallow or rented out to other wealthy tourists. They are also used as crash pads by the little darlings from Cedarhurst and Englewood who come here for a gap year of pretty much nothing, while their Israeli peers are slogging through the mud in Golani and Nahal. These 10,000 homes are on average twice the size of apartments for typical Israeli families. Hence a huge percentage of our residential real estate is owner UN-occupied, and serves no purpose except to escalate the cost of real estate so that normal people – like cops – can never afford to live here.

All of which leaves us with a pathetically small local pool from which to recruit new officers. And, indeed, what local officers we do have come from this slim slice of honest life with whom it is my honor and privilege to spend long hours patrolling and protecting everyone else.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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