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Shomrim (Hebrew: שומרים, lit. "watchers" or "guards") are organizations of volunteer Jewish civilian patrols which have been set up in Hasidic and Haredi neighborhoods in the United States and England to combat burglary, vandalism, mugging, assault, domestic violence, nuisance crimes, and antisemitic attacks. They also help locate missing people.
Shomrim volunteers are unarmed and do not have the authority to make arrests. They are effective in tracking and detaining suspects until police arrive. Occasionally Shomrim members have been cited for using excessive force against non-Jewish suspects.
In Brooklyn, Baltimore, and London  many residents call Shomrim instead of the police due to the former's quicker response time. However, the volunteer patrol has been criticized by the New York City Police Department for not always notifying police when a call comes in. Additionally, Brooklyn Shomrim organizers have been accused of withholding information on suspected child molesters and Jewish criminals, in keeping with an interpretation of the Torah prohibition against mesirah (informing on a fellow Jew to the non-Jewish authorities).
Shomrim was first established in the Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhoods of Boro Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Williamsburg in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Similar patrols were later established in Hasidic and Haredi neighborhoods in Monsey, New York, Baltimore, Miami, Waterbury, Connecticut, and London, England.
Shomrim volunteers, who are unpaid, are members of the Hasidic and Haredi Jewish communities that they serve. London and Stamford Hill Shomrim require their members to be "Jewish, male, and married" as a sign of stability and affiliation with the community. In Brooklyn, Shomrim members, according to their coordinator, are fingerprinted and checked for a criminal record before being allowed to join the patrol. In Stamford Hill, London, Shomrim volunteers undergo training according to Security Industry Authority standards.
Shomrim volunteers – who range from a few dozen to over 100, depending on the group – work on foot or in cars. Generally, members work two to a vehicle that is equipped with a radio and a siren. Some Brooklyn patrols have marked cars which resemble New York City Police Department vehicles, but most use their own, unmarked cars. The patrols may also carry walkie-talkies. They wear identifying jackets and yarmulkes on the job.
The volunteers, says a coordinator, do not carry guns, batons, pepper spray, or handcuffs, and do not have the authority to make arrests. However, they are trained in how to safely track and detain suspects until police arrive. They have been known to quickly mobilize area residents to block off streets in order to stop suspects.
Shomrim responds to a wide variety of crimes and cases, including reports of purse snatching, vandalism, car and bicycle thefts, and missing people. Volunteers patrol the city streets in the wee hours of the morning as a deterrent presence. When they aren't on duty, they remain on call, and are often summoned to help other Shomrim groups or other Jewish community rescue organizations such as Hatzalah and Chaverim during large-scale search and rescue operations.
Shomrim has been effective in apprehending suspects of robberies, assault, car thefts, vandalism, domestic violence, nuisance crimes, and antisemitic attacks. In an incident in 2010, four Brooklyn South Shomrim volunteers gave chase to a suspected child predator who suddenly drew a gun and shot each of them. Following that incident, the Brooklyn South Shomrim were issued bullet-proof vests by the New York State Senate.
Shomrim volunteers have occasionally been criticized for using excessive force with non-Jewish suspects. In 1996 a Crown Heights Shomrim volunteer was convicted of assault charges after repeatedly hitting a suspect on the head with a walkie-talkie after the man had been subdued. In 2010 a Baltimore Shomrim volunteer was arrested for allegedly striking a black teenager. In 2011, two Monsey Shomrim volunteers were charged with misdemeanors in a fracas that erupted after a girl hit a passing van with a water balloon.
Shomrim maintains a delicate working relationship with local police departments and Shomrim regularly shares its information on crime with officers.
The relationship is a sensitive one, however. Many residents of Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Stamford Hill tend to call Shomrim in an emergency rather than the police. Shomrim cites its faster response time, knowledge of the territory, and ability to speak Yiddish, the language of the Hasidic community, for the residents' preference. While the expectation is for Shomrim to notify police, this is done in some cases but not in others. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has publicly stated that Shomrim does not immediately notify police when a call comes in. This was highlighted in the 2011 missing-child case of Leiby Kletzky (see below): the first call by Kletzky's mother reporting her missing child was received by Brooklyn South Shomrim more than two hours before Kletzky's father called police. The Brooklyn South Shomrim explains that it does not always notify police immediately in cases of missing children, since it receives at least 10 such calls a day and is experienced in quickly locating children by searching candy stores, buses, and relatives' homes.
In Brooklyn, the civilian patrol has been accused of withholding information about suspected local child molesters. One Brooklyn South Shomrim member acknowledged to the press that they maintain a file of suspected local child molesters, and some believe that this file includes the suspects' photos and the make, model and license-plate number of their cars. But Shomrim does not share this information with police due to the Torah prohibition against mesirah (informing on a fellow Jew to the non-Jewish authorities). However, another high-ranking member claims that the other member was misquoted, and that the list that Brooklyn South Shomrim maintains is culled from the New York Sex Offender Registry. Members of the Williamsburg Shomrim always consult a rabbi before involving police in a crime committed by one Jew against another.
The founding of Shomrim organizations in North West London and Stamford Hill in 2008 initially met with disapproval by the London Metropolitan Police, which questioned the existence of a community patrol working in tandem with trained police officers and claimed they were endangering themselves. In 2009, a new borough commander in Hackney consulted with the New York Police Department to draw up a list of expectations for the volunteer patrol. The North West London Shomrim agreed to have its members undergo background checks and sign a code of conduct, and pledged to implement disciplinary measures for members who "act inappropriately". Today the Hackney borough commander commends Shomrim in its role as "evidence-gathers" and support for police activities.
New York Shomrim groups have been successful at securing taxpayer funding in member earmarks for their operations, allowing them to buy sophisticated equipment. Commentators cite the groups' effectiveness and also their political clout as a voting bloc that follows rabbis' direction.
The Shomrim Brooklyn South Safety Patrol, which covers the neighborhoods of Boro Park, Bensonhurst, and Kensington, was founded in the 1980s by Jacob Daskal. In the beginning the group was known as the "Bakery Boys" as its members were bakers who observed late-night car break-ins in progress. Its command center is located in a tire shop. The dispatchers, owners of the tire shop, receive about 100 calls a day and direct a force of 150 members.
Brooklyn South Shomrim came to international attention as the coordinator of a massive volunteer search for Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old Boro Park boy who went missing while walking home from day camp in July 2011; he was later found murdered by a Kensington resident. The Brooklyn South command center alerted other Shomrim patrols in Flatbush, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights, as well as Hasidic communities in Monsey, Monroe, Lawrence, Passaic, and Lakewood, to mobilize up to 5,000 Orthodox Jewish volunteers for a block-by-block search for the missing boy. After police identified the suspect's car from surveillance videos, two Flatbush volunteers searching in nearby Kensington spotted the car; the suspect was apprehended by police shortly after. Later the Brooklyn South Shomrim maintained order at the huge funeral for the victim and outside the parents' home during the week-long shiva period.
Shomrim London North West Community Patrol was founded by Mr Gary Ost in 2008. Shomrim London NW is a non profit registered charity which operates as "mobile neighborhood watch" and acts as eyes and ears to the local Community & the Metropolitan Police. Volunteer Patrol members patrol the streets of Golders Green, Childs Hill, Hendon, Finchley and Temple Fortune whereby members report crime to the Metropolitan Police. At least 2 vehicles patrol the area every night.
Shomrim London NW operate a 24 hour emergency response team which will dispatch units to a scene of an emergency  and will liaise with the other responding emergency services. Volunteers are in radio contact, and dispatched via a central dispatcher.
Shomrim London NW has the capability to deal with various scenarios including the locating of missing persons and protocols are in place for full scale searches with North & North West London Shomrim working in partnership. All volunteers have completed training from the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) in assisting to identify potential security threats and suspicious activity.
The Jewish Rabbinate in London have thanked Shomrim London NW for the dedication of its volunteers and for providing a valuable service in enhancing the quality of life within the Jewish neighborhood. Shomrim London NW also acts as a liaison between the North West London community and the Metropolitan Police.
Mr Gary Ost, chief executive of Shomrim North-West London feels that reporting rates have increased in the borough of Barnet due to Shomrim's presence there and their work became doubly important during the London riots in July 2011
Volunteers are also fully trained to the standard of the Security Industry Authority. The SIA training course covered the following mandatory units:Introduction to the Security Industry, Roles and Responsibilities, Behavioral Standards, Equality and Diversity, Health and Safety, UK Law, Arrest,Searching, Drug Awareness, Reporting, Emergencies & Fire Safety, Conflict Management, Communication Skills, Patrolling, Using Systems and other important items.
The Shomrim Stamford Hill Safety and Rescue Patrol, founded in 2005 by Efrayim Goldstein, has 50 volunteers and a 24-hour emergency hotline. In its first five months of operation, the hotline received 2,000 calls reporting burglaries, thefts and muggings. Incoming calls are broadcast both to police and Shomrim members. While police figures previously showed Stamford Hill to have the lowest crime rate in the borough of Hackney, the presence of Shomrim has revealed that crime was being underreported by the largely Yiddish-speaking Hasidic community.
Crown Heights Shomrim was founded in 1977. It expanded its operations following the 1991 Crown Heights riots. Members, driving repainted police cars, respond to armed robberies, burglaries, and assaults in progress, as well as automobile accidents and general assistance to residents. While they are not authorized to make arrests, they will chase suspects and try to detain them by surrounding them and talking to them until police arrive. Members of Crown Heights Shomrim must be a minimum of 18 years of age. Due to a religious split among Hasidim in Crown Heights, another shomrim group, called Shmira, also patrols Crown Heights; its members are under age 18. Both groups have been tried in court for allegedly assaulting blacks in the neighborhood.
The Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol, originally known as Brooklyn Midwood Shomrim, was founded in 1991 by Chaim Deutsch with the support of neighborhood rabbinic leaders. At the time, police did not have the manpower to respond immediately to crimes in progress. The group's 40 volunteers patrol in their own, unmarked cars and use high-powered binoculars to view suspects at a distance. If they see a crime in progress, they summon police, who respond promptly. Often the Shomrim volunteers serve as witnesses for the filing of police reports. Members also carry special equipment for opening locked houses and cars. In 2009 the Flatbush Shomrim acquired a $250,000 mobile security command center which is similar to NYPD command centers, including a state-of-the-art communications system, flat-panel television, computer, fax machine, portable defibrillator, a toilet incinerator that can convert solid waste to ash, conference room, and kitchen.
The Williamsburg Shomrim, also known as the Kings County Safety Patrol, was founded in 1977 by a local resident in response to a wave of violent muggings perpetuated on Jewish residents by non-Jews. Today, the majority of calls received by Williamsburg Shomrim deal with car theft, missing children and graffiti. Most of its 50 members work six nights a week.
Baltimore Shomrim was founded in 2005 in response to a rash of burglaries in the city's Orthodox Jewish community. In its first five years, the organization received over 4,600 calls for assistance. Members – generally local Orthodox businessmen and shopkeepers – wear matching jackets and carry two-way radios. The organization divides the area under surveillance into quadrants and responds quickly to all calls. Among the calls for help are bicycle thefts, missing children, and suicide attempts.
Waterbury Shomrim, established on 31 October 2010 in response to the escalating crime rate in the Greater Waterbury area, sends out patrols nightly in the Jewish community.
The Los Angeles Shmira Safety Patrol was originally founded in 2009 by Kenneth Lowenstein in the Pico/Robertson area of Los Angeles. After a slow start a former member of the Guardian Angels named Adam Kratt joined and help revitalize the patrol. LA Shmira works closely with the Los Angeles Police Department's Olympic Division and coordinates with the South Robertson District Council's Safety Committee. LA Shmira currently has 20 members, including 3 rabbis and a Shmira Juniors program that includes 10 youths.