Orit Shalev,
Head of Research and Development Unit,
Negev Sub-District,
Israel National Police
(Teaches Police Studies in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.)


Ch. Supt. Dr. Pinhas Yehezkeli,
Community Policing Unit,
Israel Police Headquarters,
and former Commander of the Beer Sheva Police Station
(Teaches Police Studies in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.)

Background to the Project

At the beginning of 1991, it was obvious that one of the main problems the Beer Sheva Police had to deal with was spouse abuse. During "Open Door" sessions (when any resident can meet individually with the Station Commander and discuss any subject) many citizens raised the issue and the police treatment of it. A number of women had been murdered by their husbands, three of them in Beer Sheva within two weeks of each other. Public awareness had become focused on the problem and on the perceived failure of the police to solve it.

All police stations had received instructions to allocate more resources to keeping the domestic peace. The new post of Sergeant of Domestic Peace was designated to specialize in domestic complaints. In the Beer Sheva Police

Station at this time, nine Police officers formed the Minor Offense Unit, whose duties covered spouse abuse, neighbor disputes and such, but most of whose daily workload, and by far most of the complaints they received, were accounted for by spouse abuse. The situation was exacerbated by couples exploiting the police to further their side of a marital dispute. Sometimes lawyers encouraged one of them to provoke violence so that they could use it in the divorce trial.

Police procedures meant to reduce spouse abuse were ineffective and inappropriate to the reality of the problem. In the 267 complaints of spouse abuse received at the Beer Sheva Police Station during the last six months of 1990, the main strategy employed was mediation. 80% of the complaints were classified as "no offense" and a majority of the remainder were closed as "of no public interest," with no further action to be taken. Classification patterns varied from month to month. Arrests were hardly ever made (0.7% of all complaints). The use of release "on condition" was minimal (2%) and recidivism was high (22%). "Ping-pong" complaints, in which the police played the part of the ball in the spouse "contest", amounted to 14% of the total.

The Police Response

The Beer Sheva Police Station Research and Development Unit, based on Civil Guard volunteers, studied the issue. A comprehensive literature review was made. It was obvious that police departments all over the world faced similar problems but no effective or efficient solution appeared to have been found. The subject was also being looked into at the time by a Department of Justice committee headed by the Deputy Attorney-General. The Beer Sheva Unit decided to seek its own solution. Drawing on the behavioral sciences and on management theories, it set out to design an effective treatment process for spouse abuse.

New instructions had been issued to all stations, effective from June 1991, the essence of which was that, henceforward, a complaint of spouse abuse should be treated as any other assault complaint. The results of the Unit’s review of current police practice and the new directives encouraged us to try out a new operational model, in which a police officer would take on the role of the case manager in spouse abuse cases.

We defined our main purpose as not only to ease the burden of the problem on the INP but to actually reduce the extent of the practice in Israeli society. Since there is a consensus that this kind of problem should be treated by mental health specialists, it was obvious that the police did not have the necessary skills. At the same time, we did not want to decriminalize the suspects and their actions. We decided that the best way of approaching the problem was to combine the resources of the social agencies who dealt with it. A multi-organizational model seemed to be the way.

The Unit looked for partners that would collaborate with it at the therapeutic level. Our first partner was Na’amat (an Israeli women’s organization), which had recently opened an anti-violence center in Beer Sheva and was offering anti-violence workshops, free of charge, for both abusers and victims. Na’amat had found that men were reluctant to take advantage of their program.

The next step was to devise a working model. We called ours a "Diversion Model" since it could switch abusing spouses from one treatment track to another. The essence of the model is to integrate law enforcement with community-sited therapeutic treatment. Its operational linchpin is the fact that Israeli law that allows a police officer to release a suspect, under certain "conditions", on his own recognizance. The law also permits a senior police officer to release a suspect before the end of his period of custody under any conditions that the suspect or his lawyer have formally accepted, that do not contravene a court order.

At this stage, we took the integrative model to other relevant agencies in the area the municipal Social Services Department, the Probation Services, and the courts. The National Probation Service authorities in Jerusalem agreed that their Beer Sheva branch would participate experimentally.

Model at Work

1. On receiving a report of a spouse abuse incident, either from the emergency telephone number or by personal complaint at the station, the police officer in charge classifies it criminal or non-criminal.

2. If the case is classified as criminal, the police will decide whether to arrest or not. In some cases, the police will decide to charge the suspect within the period of arrest and detention. The possibility of other violent abuse in the family (e.g. toward children) will be investigated.

3. In unclear cases, when the complaint’s verity is in doubt and the suspect denies the charges against him, both parties are polygraph tested. If the suspect is telling the truth, the complaint against him is closed and the complainant is charged with making a false complaint. If the suspect is lying, he is immediately detained and charged.

4. If the case does not go to trial within the period of arrest and detention, the suspect will be released under specified conditions, which will include a referral for treatment to one or more of the following agencies:

a) Probation Services: A preliminary probation evaluation is made, includes the suspect’s willingness to participate in workshops conducted by the Probation Services. The deficiency of this solution is the fact that it takes a month to decide whether the suspect is suitable for treatment. Some of the applicants are rejected. The solution is also perceived by the suspect as a means by which the authorities can exercise supervision over him.

b) Na’amat: Referred suspects are usually accepted for participation in workshops and psychological observation and evaluation. Both spouses attend workshops.

c) Municipal Social Services Bureau: Examines the possibility of child abuse.

5. The progress of suspects sent to Na’amat and the Probation Services is monitored by their sending periodic reports to the INP.

6. The criminal file is enriched by including assessments of social workers and other treatment professionals. These documents are an important factor in decisions on extending the detention period and taking the case to trial or not.

7. While the suspect is in treatment, the complaint is suspended.

8. Treatment opinion and recommendations are taken into account when deciding each next step. Having reviewed these opinions, the police officer in charge of the case makes one of two decisions to take the case to trial or to close the file for "lack of public interest".


The innovation of the Multi-Organizational Treatment Model was met with a great deal of skepticism from police authorities and other agencies. As part of the Unit’s efforts to establish the value of the Model, we compared the results of the first six months of its operation with the parallel period in the previous year and ran tests to determine the statistical significance of the change.

Some of the findings are given here below:

                               July-Dec/1990  July-Dec 1991                              (Before Model)  (Model in                                                 operation) Total spouse abuse complaints  267   100%     147   100% Complaint classified as   criminal offense               54    20%      63    43% Suspect arrested                 2     0.7%     6     4% Suspect released "on condition"  6     2%      56    38% Suspect charged                 38    14%      46    31% Recidivism rate                 58    22%      16    11% "Ping-pong" complaints          38    14%       3     2% 

The above findings and further analysis show quite clearly that there was a significant difference in police treatment and complaints classification between 1990 and 1991:.

* The decrease in the total number of complaints was marked.
* A much higher proportion of the complaints was classified criminal.
* The model was used in 27% of the non-criminal cases and in 52% of the criminal cases. Overall, it was implemented in 38% of cases.
* The treatment agency in 60 (71.4%) of cases was Na’amat.
* The numbers of suspects arrested and charged increased but the rise cannot be analyzed for significance.
* Recidivism rates and "ping-pong" complaints rates dropped significantly.

Any new method needs time for workers to adjust to it. The police officers in the Minor Offense Unit, who had grown accustomed to a different way of dealing with spouse abuse, did not accept and/or put the model into practice at the same rate. Some of the nine officers of the Unit understood the innovation before others and assimilated it faster. This could explain the fact that the model was used only in 38% of cases in its first six months. A similar trend was noted at agency level. Some took more time than others to appreciate and adopt the model. For example, the Probation Services only joined after receiving the first reports from Na’amat. But even in this brief initial period, the effect of the new procedures can be seen in the dramatic reduction of recidivism and "ping-pong" complaints. As regards the latter, the three complaints recorded for 1991 were in the first few weeks of the model’s implementation. Thereafter, there were no more complaints of this type.

Other Results

* There is clear indication that the new procedures reduced the burden on police officers. The decrease in the number of complaints and the fact that each complaint was dealt with once only allowed the Station Commander to transfer six of the nine police officers from the Minor Offense Unit to other police units.

* Instead of the police and each treatment agency trying to deal with the totality of each event separately, they now could concentrate on contributing their abilities and knowledge to those aspects of the problem in which they were most expert. The police could execute its authority to send offenders for treatment instead of trying to mediate in situations with which they were not qualified to deal. Treatment agencies, whose skills had been under-utilized by the community, were able to fulfill the functions for which they had been established.

* As the model’s effectiveness was demonstrated, the courts began to recognize the value of the system which they had created by ordering treatment for those suspects who had refused treatment as a condition for suspension of arrest.

* Another way in which the model served the needs of the legal system, was the evaluation of suspects by the Probation Service early in the process. When a suspect is convicted in court of spouse abuse, it is customary for the judge to ask the Probation Service for a pre-sentencing evaluation. If such an evaluation has already been done, the court can save weeks and sometimes months of delay in reaching a decision.

* Operating the model made a considerable change to the informal hierarchy of the Beer Sheva Police Station. Police officers who had been assigned to the Minor Offense Unit were no longer at the bottom of the station’s hierarchy. That they were part of an innovative project and were in daily contact with other professional agencies that expressed appreciation of their work made the other officers interested in having a model project for their own units and even to propose ideas.

After a period of successful operation, the Model was brought to the attention of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). In 1993, it was studied by the Israeli Police Comptroller who recommended it in his report as the basis for a new, nationwide police approach to the offense of spouse abuse. Steps are being taken to change Israeli law so that the multi- organizational cooperation in spouse abuse cases will not depend on the goodwill of individual officials.