NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They are the first line of defense in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and when 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky went missing, they were the first to respond.
When her son went missing, the first call Leiby’s mother made was not to 911, but to a volunteer police patrol that serves Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhoods.
“These are the Shomrim, the watchers,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind on the day of the search.
Residents in Borough Park say the first call is always to the Shomrim, who know the streets intimately and often respond quicker than police, who got the call Leiby was missing two and a half hours later.
WCBS 880’s 880 Marla Diamond reports: Residents Say They Often Get Better Response From Shomrim Patrol
The community’s own private patrol is a volunteer force of 150 people, who launched a massive grass-roots search for the missing 8-year-old.
“Everyone was going to stop what they were doing to find this child,” said renowned author and educator Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
In this tight-knit, insular and private community, it is largely how things are done. Neighbor helping neighbor, people trusting their own.
Rabbi Boteach says in many instances of times of trouble, people turn to the Shomrim first.
“It’s not reliant on the police. It’s reliant on people you know,” he said. “It’s a feeling of intimacy when comes to the community’s protection.”
While some outsiders may question the wisdom of that given the tragic case of Leiby’s death, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly says while he would have liked to have been notified sooner, it wouldn’t have made a difference.
“In this particular case, I don’t see anything that could have been done with a quicker notification,” said Kelly.
The Shomrim, much like Borough Park’s private volunteer ambulance service called Hatzolah which can provide emergency treatment, is seen as family here. The place to turn to first.
“They know they are going to be able to rely on each other more than anyone else,” said Boteach.
In this community where people don’t watch TV or read mainstream newspapers, the old ways matter.
The name Shomrim means “watchers” and that is what volunteers say they are, a trusted community watch group.
In the days before Leiby Kletzky’s body was found, as many as 5,000 volunteers came out to search for the 8-year-old.