Police Responses to Terrorism: Lessons from the Israeli Experience


Project Details


The Israeli National Police carry out a wide variety of activities and have a broad array of functions in the fight against terrorism. This study seeks to describe those activities and functions and to assess their impact on terrorism and public security more generally, and possible unintended negative consequences on other policing functions or community/policing relationships. The study has three main components: a description of the ways in which the Israeli police prepare and organize the homeland security function; a prospective study of the Israeli response to specific terrorist incidents; and an assessment of how the Israeli police role in homeland security impacts on other aspects of policing (e.g. crime control, community policing).

Primary Findings:

The extensive involvement of the Israeli Police in countering terrorism has had significant effects on police performance as well as on public perceptions of the police in Israel. Our analyses of clearance rates in Israeli communities suggest that terrorist threats have a significant impact upon police performance. Overall, as threat levels rise, clearance rates decline. However, the effect varies strongly by type of community. Higher levels of threat are associated with lower proportions of cleared cases in the majority Jewish communities, and higher proportions in the minority Arab communities. We attribute the negative effect on primarily Jewish communities to the decline in police service that comes with a concentration on terrorism. The positive effect in primarily Arab communities is attributed to the increased surveillance that is brought to communities that have ethnic, religious and national relationships with groups that are associated with terrorism. An analysis of public attitudes toward the Israeli National Police over time suggests that during high-threat years, support and general positive attitudes (including legitimacy, procedural justice, and performance) toward the police increased. However, as the threat declined, public attitudes return to previous and even lower levels. This trend suggests that extensive police involvement in homeland security has both short and long-term effects on public attitudes, which may be understood in light of the "Rally Effect". Similar to previous surveys measuring public attitudes toward the Israeli police, our recent community survey suggest that general evaluations of the Israeli police, including perceptions of legitimacy, performance and procedural justice, are low overall. Unlike previous surveys, however, our survey also measured attitudes concerning policing terrorism. This data suggests that there are two sides to police involvement in counter-terrorism. On the one hand, policing terrorism elicits positive evaluations, particularly concerning performance in this field and respect to the police when they engage in such activities. On the other hand many think that policing terrorism negatively affects performance in other domains; that homeland security is often used as an excuse to justify failures in fighting crime; and that this role negatively affects police-community relationships. Strong similarities were found between Jewish and Arab respondents, although Arab respondents thought the impacts on community/police relationships were significantly larger.


Several strategies were used to assess the effects of policing terrorism in Israel on the police and on society more generally:

1. Analysis of terrorism threat levels faced by Israeli police stations and communities, using data provided by the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2. Analysis of the relationship between terrorism threat levels and police performance in Israeli communities, using official data on clearance rates provided by the Israeli National Police.

3. Examination of the relationship between terrorism threats and public perceptions of the police over time, using survey data collected annually by the Ministry of Public Security, Israel.

4. Analysis of the relationship between terrorism threats and public attitudes toward and expectations from the police in Israel, using a large-scale community survey. The survey was carried out in the districts of nine police stations in Israel and included over 400 respondents from each district. The questionnaire inquired about trust in the police; obligation to obey the law and/or the police; procedural justice; performance; deterrence; expectations from the police; willingness to cooperate with the police; and views concerning policing terrorism in Israel.


Project Period: