Sunday, September 05, 2010

shomrim

NYTimes | On Thursday night in Brooklyn, a suspect was chased and quickly surrounded by a group of patrolmen in blue uniform jackets who ordered him to halt.

The man, David Flores, 33, who witnesses say was fondling himself in front of children in a Hasidic section of Brooklyn known as Borough Park, was about to be caught by the men in blue. He began shooting at the men, all unarmed, with a .22-caliber handgun, the authorities said, hitting and wounding four before being tackled.

Although these streets are in the jurisdiction of the New York Police Department — the 66th Precinct — these patrolmen were not police officers. In fact, two were bakers, one was a dry cleaner and the fourth sells insurance.

They were volunteers with the Brooklyn South Safety Patrol, a licensed, unarmed civilian group. They wore blue jackets with emblems, but they also wore skull caps and had forelocks of the Hasidic. They yelled in Yiddish as chaos erupted about 8 p.m. on 49th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Within minutes, the area was swarming with patrol members, who roped off the area with yellow crime scene tape — marked “shomrim,” a word derived from the Hebrew word for guards.

While few outside the community are familiar with the group, the shooting cast a spotlight on it and its role on the streets. There are similar groups in Brooklyn’s three other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods: Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Flatbush.

In Borough Park, the patrol members are as natural a sight as men in black coats and hats. Many area residents are more likely to call the patrol’s hot line number than 911.

The calls go to the Brooklyn shomrim communications center — a phone in a truck tire repair shop owned by Sam and Mendy Rosenberg. The brothers go from fixing tires to answering about 100 calls a day and then dispatching shomrim responders by radio.

“We have a faster response than the police, about a minute and a half,” said Mendy Rosenberg, his big hands and mechanic’s outfit smeared with grease. If a suspect is trying to escape by car, he can call upon hundreds of people to block streets and bridge entrances.