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Shomrim in the Spotlight after Orthodox Boy's Murder

Jul 22, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Organizations known as Shomrim that operate as volunteer neighborhood watches in many Orthodox Jewish communities are coming under scrutiny following the disappearance and murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky  in New York City.  Critics of these groups claim the Shomrim often operate with little accountability, and can even interfere with the work of law enforcement by discouraging victims child sexual abuse and other crimes from making police reports.

Following the discovery of Leiby's body in a dumpster and in the home of his alleged killer, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly publicly praised the Shomrim for mobilizing the community in a massive search effort for the boy.  But according to a report from The Jewish Weekly, another unidentified NYPD official slammed one of the groups for taking its time in reporting the boy's disappearance to police.  Apparently, there was a lag of more than two hours between the time Leiby's mother called the Brooklyn South Shomrim about her son's disappearance, and his father's call to 911 to notify the police.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Commission Kelly acknowledged that the  Shomrim often do not immediately notify police when they get reports and that this has been a “longstanding” issue for the department, but asserted the time lag probably did not make a difference in the Leiby Kletzky case.

Some media reports also speculated the Shomrim may have received warnings about Leiby's alleged killer - Levi Aron - because a parent had complained in the weeks prior to the murder that he had stalked another boy in the neighborhood.  But the founder and coordinator of the South Brooklyn Shomrim told The Daily News that wasn't the case.

"No one ever complained to us about him," Jacob Daskel said.

He did, however, acknowledge that the Shomrim keeps a list of suspected child predators.  The list currently contains about 15 names, but has not been shared with police.

"The community doesn't go to the police with these names because the rabbis don't let you. It's not right," Daskel said.

A rabbi from the community confirmed this for The Daily News.

"It's against Halacha [Jewish law] to go the police without speaking to the rabbis," said Rabbi Joseph Hershkowitz, 57, who counsels families in Borough Park and Williamsburg. "We consider Shomrim and Hatzolah [the Jewish ambulance service] family. So you go to family first."

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