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Why you can, and should, become a local neighborhood crime fighter
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Two grown men — one clad in a business suit, the other in a blue uniform — both strapped into safety harnesses, race each other to the top of a rock climbing wall. Parents, children, and policemen watch with amusement as the two — New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch and a Shomrim volunteer — come back down to earth and shake hands.
The friendly competition was just one of several lures for citizens to attend a Crime Prevention and Safety Day sponsored by Flatbush Shomrim, along with a super slide, moonwalk, ice cream truck, pizza, raffle, and free tours of Shomrim’s emergency vehicle headquarters.
Alongside the fun and games, the NYPD engraved bicycles and electronic equipment with serial numbers as part of “Operation ID,” an initiative to dissuade theft, and left the indelible message that increased vigilance should be the watchword in the wake of the Orlando terror attack.
“Call the police and our hotline immediately if you are concerned about something,” says Bob Moskowitz, the executive coordinator of Flatbush Shomrim. “If you’re afraid of identifying yourself, call in anonymously. Even if you think it might not be important, and don’t want to waste our time, call us and let us be the judge of that. It might be harmless, but sometimes the threats are very real.”
Shomrim receives an average of two calls per week reporting suspicious figures photographing or loitering around shuls and yeshivos or cruising through neighborhoods at odd hours. Most of these calls come in hours later, or even the next day, when the suspicious people are long gone and little can be done. And for each sighting reported, several more go overlooked or are unreported.
It was Councilman Deutsch, now a member of the city’s Committee on Public Safety, who founded Flatbush’s Shomrim 20 years ago. “Crime was so prevalent in the area then that if you stood outside for a reasonable amount of time, you were bound to see something happen,” Deutsch said.
While crime has fallen in the past generation, personal insecurity has grown. While the NYPD are always first responders to acts of violence, police encourage citizens to notify groups such as Shomrim, which can respond faster to suspicious sightings.
“Look out for people who don’t belong, for oddities like bulky coats in the summer, for strange patterns of behavior, or duffel or shopping bags left unattended in public places,” says Ralph Marucci, a retired NYPD lieutenant. “Remember details. Look for eye and hair color, weight, height, dress, footgear, license plate numbers. Keep an ear out for different languages, and be suspicious when someone asks you questions about locations of or events at religious institutions. You know your block and community best, you know who belongs and who does not.”
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