By: Kelly Jemal Massry
For twenty-five years, the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol has been safeguarding our community from crime, yet their services are not as well known as they should be to us. Founded in 1991 by now-councilman Chaim Deutsch, the organization was formed when crime in Brooklyn was on the rise. “We realized that the Police Department couldn’t be everywhere all the time,” Executive Coordinator Bob Moskovitz says, “so we went ahead and approached the Community Affairs office. We told them we could be another set of eyes and ears for them.” Indeed, the Flatbush Shomrim volunteers are a tremendous help to the Police Department.
Supremely well trained in areas like counter terrorism, active shooting and crime prevention, most of the Shomrim have graduated from both the Citizen’s Police Academy and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Given the recent terrorists attacks that have occurred too close to home in NY and NJ, the value of this sort of training can never be underestimated.
The Shomrim have razor sharp instincts that serve in any number of capacities. Recently, they were present at Magen David Synagogue’s historic Sefer Torah dedication, making sure that the streets were closed off and that revelers were safe as they danced – but their services go much further than that. Shuls call them if they see anything suspicious and they’ve caught a mugger more than once by canvassing the area immediately after the incident happened. Matters like this are taken seriously because, as Bob declares, “if we don’t find him, he may act again and hurt someone else.” The safety patrol also deals with domestic abuse issues – whether the affected party is a child, a spouse, or a parent.
Shomrim specialize, however, in locating “Special Category Missings” – Alzheimer patients or autistic children who have wandered off involuntarily. Thanks to a state of the art mobile command center that has a conference room for interviews and machines with the ability to print hundreds of flyers per minute in order to publicize disappearances, their success rate is excellent. Caregivers of a missing person should call for help immediately, rather than waiting to see if their loved one will return, as every minute in this sort of situation is crucial. The emergency hotline number is 718-338-9797 and it’s open 24 hours, seven days a week for instances like this, in which the outcome is a matter of pikuach nefesh.
At the most basic level, the Flatbush Shomrim is an anti-crime patrol unit. On any given night, about ten Shomrim cars cruise the streets, on the lookout for suspicious behavior or unusual looking people. They have a special advantage over traditional cops, in that police cars are marked. Even unmarked police cars are recognizable to perpetrators. Shomrim vehicles, however, can range from a Porsche to a minivan. As a result, wrongdoers often have their guards down in the presence of a Shomer. “We identify the thief, park the car, and follow him on foot,” says Mr. Moskovitz. “He has no idea he’s being followed. And when we see him committing the crime, all we have to do is point the finger when the police show up. In most cases it ends up in a collar - that is, with an arrest being made.”
As Bob explains, every arrest needs two components, a complainant and a witness. Shomrim usually serve as the witness and also often secure the complainant. They do this by knocking on doors and letting people know a car has been broken into (even if it means waking them up in the process). They might also venture into the vehicle itself to find the home address on the GPS system or the name on the car’s registration papers. On a regular basis, Shomrim testify on grand juries to ensure that the case is solid enough for the DA’s office to prosecute successfully. Often, Shomrim lose a day’s work to report what they’ve seen. “We hand them over arrests on a silver platter,” Bob says of the Police Department. “Most of the time, we have the perpetrator, we have the witness and we have the complainant – and there’s nothing more they have to do.” The formal charge becomes “unauthorized use of a vehicle,” and these miscreants are duly prosecuted for their crimes.
The work of the Shomrim truly is le’shem shamayim. “We don’t get anything out of it,” Bob says, just that our community is safe.” Though Mr. Moskovitz is always grateful for volunteer hopefuls, the application process is a rigorous one – partly because he has to make sure the individual has what it takes. “The keyword is commitment,” Bob says. “It’s a lot of hours. You have to be willing to be out at night, sweating in the summer months and freezing during the winter, getting your hands dirty.” It’s not as if Shomrim are keeping tabs on people from the warm comfort of their cars. On the contrary, they’re out in the elements, staking our certain areas and keeping a very watchful but subtle eye on certain people. “Sometimes it can take many hours until somebody commits a crime. He’ll wait and pacefor a while before he does it – and the Police Department will never put in that kind of time,” Mr. Moskovitz proclaims. The Shomrim, on the other hand, will, if they think there is a very real chance a crime might happen.
When the Sephardic Community Federation (SCF) was concerned about the potential for crime in our neighborhoods, they asked Bob for the Shomrim’s help. Because the patrol members were located mostly outside of our area, he urged the SCF to round up a core of volunteers from our community, for quicker and more effective response time. Now, twelve of the fifty Shomrim volunteers are from our community. And it’s just as well because, of the 4,000 calls that the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol fields each year, one-third come from us. Hand in hand with SBH, the Shomrim work to help keep the peace. We are thankful for their service during these dangerous times.
Though the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol does get funding from New York City, it’s not nearly enough to cover expenses. Those interested in making a contribution can send monetary donations to the Flatbush Shomrim headquarters at 1009 East 14th Street Brooklyn, NY 11230.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIPS
* Make sure your car door is locked. Most cars are broken into because their door is left open. “There’s not a block in Flatbush that doesn’t have half a dozen cars with their doors left open,” Bob says. And of course, that’s how thieves all-too-easily gain entry, popping the trunk and “going to town” with a person’s possessions.
* Never leave anything in plain view – not even a nickel on the windshield. If perpetrators see anything at all in their line of vision, they will smash the window.
* Keep your house well lit. Make sure your doors and windows are closed, including the windows on the ground floor. If you have an alarm, make sure it is on at all times.
* If you leave your house for an extended period, have somebody pick up your mail and mow the lawn, so that the house looks lived in. It shouldn’t seem as if nobody is home. Follow these precautions especially closely before going to Deal for the summer and before Pesach and Winter Vacation. Perpetrators are aware of our off seasons.
* Above all, be vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings. If you see something suspicious, first dial 911 and then call the Flatbush Shomrim at 718-338-9797. Don’t worry about the potential for false alarms. As the saying goes, “it’s better to be safe than sorry.”