By Sarah Carnvek
It's not every day that an Israeli is elected to the leadership of an international group with a presence in 69 countries. But not everyone is police superintendent Gal Sharon.
The 30-year Israel Police veteran was elected first international vice president of the International Police Association (IPA) -- a move unprecedented for an Israeli and a woman -- by secret ballot at the IPA's 20th World Congress held recently in Eilat.
IPA represents 430,000 police officers from around the world. According to its charter the independent, apolitical body strives to develop "cultural relations amongst its members, a broadening of their general knowledge, and an exchange of professional experience” in addition to peaceful co-existence between peoples.
The organization is overseen by an international president and three vice presidents. Sharon was also elected chairperson of its International Social Commission (ISC).
"The fact that I was chosen and that I am from Israel is a message in itself," she says, noting many of the votes in her favor came from nations that have no formal ties with Israel. "I'm from Israel but I don't just represent Israel. The world police chose me and I represent everyone."
IPA in Israel
One of IPA's main purposes is to create bonds of friendship and to promote international cooperation. Sharon's charismatic attitude has helped her – and Israel – become major forces in the international body.
That the World Congress was held in Israel was considered a coup – and many point to Sharon as the driving force behind bringing the world's top police brass to our shores.
Sharon has been part of the IPA for 12 years, rising in leadership roles along the way. It was she who broached the idea of having the gathering in Israel, and more than 850 officers from 58 countries took part in the Eilat event.
IPA’s 20th World Congress in Eilat
"It's a major honor to host the conference," she says. "It was the most successful conference ever. For many of them it was their first time in Israel and they were really excited. The feedback was amazing and they want to come back again."
Sharon says seeing all the uniformed officers in one place was a powerful sight.
While some countries’ police forces are cool toward the IPA, Israel's police chiefs offer their blessing to officers taking part. In fact, the Israeli IPA delegation counts 23,000 members-- the third largest branch in the world, after Germany and Austria.
The Israel section, established in 1963, is considered the leader in the ratio between the organization’s size and size of the police force. IPA Israel members comprise police officers, prison wardens, civil guard volunteers and pensioners.
IPA membership supports visits abroad of official delegations to international conferences, sports competitions and professional meetings. IPA members in Israel host delegations from abroad, hold receptions and form friendly relations and ties with police officers from throughout the world.
"We have a small country and a small police force but our IPA branch is one of the biggest and strongest in the world. We're celebrating 50 years of IPA in Israel and I'll make sure that every new recruit to the force joins the IPA branch," said Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino at the Eilat event.
Sharon's personal touch
The 50-year-old Sharon is probably the most popular member of the Israeli National Executive Commission. A serial initiator, she is constantly implementing new projects and ideas.
Many of her initiatives revolve around sport. She is credited with connecting the Israel Police members, including retired police officers, through sports activities.
"Sport connects people and countries," says the former triathlon competitor, who now runs only for pleasure. "People come, participate and meet new people from all over the world. That's one of the goals of IPA: to create bonds of friendship. Sport connects people regardless of rank, sex, race, color, language or religion."
Sharon with International Police Association President
Pierre-Martin Moulin in Eilat
At the World Congress recently, her popularity got the rubber stamp when she scored more votes than even newly elected International President Pierre-Martin Moulin.
In her new role, Sharon is responsible for the social activities of the organization, emergency aid, sports, hosting and travel. She is also in charge of the World Police and Fire Games coming to Northern Ireland in 2013– the Olympics of the police force.
Sharon works with a committee of five international IPA members hailing from Ireland, Greece, Israel, Italy and Turkey (who Sharon specifically chose to show that Israel and Turkey can collaborate).
Sharon is aware that her new position is a great boost for women in police forces around the world.
"I'm the only woman in the Israeli IPA executive. I know that I am very strong. I have achieved what I have achieved through hard work," she says. "I think women are no less strong than men. If women reinforce and support one another, we can achieve whatever we want."