By Yishai Cooper
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder arranged for a community meeting, with the participation of the 101st Precinct of the NYPD. Also participating in the meeting were Councilman Donovan Richards and the RCSP—the Rockaway Citizens Safety Patrol (Shomrim). Achiezer and the JCCRP were represented as well. The planned topic was security during the yom tov season. While many would have assumed global terror would be the focus, that turned out not to be the case. As Detective Wynne explained, the counterterrorism unit of the NYPD has been on heightened alert ever since the attacks of 9/11. They quietly and effectively chase down terror leads to protect us while staying in the background.
The meeting instead focused on security from threats that originate locally. Indeed this was rather appropriate, as many came out to attend this meeting as a result of the arrest of an individual who was caught stealing tefillin from Yeshiva of Far Rockaway. The interest was unexpectedly large; by the end of the meeting, all the seats were filled.
Aryeh Markovitz was on a personal crusade to make people aware of an individual who would frequent shuls and try to make friends. In fact, this author personally witnessed this individual going for leisurely strolls with members of our community. Little did people suspect that he was in fact pilfering anything of value he could find. When he would collect door-to-door, he would sometimes take advantage of the fact that the homeowner temporarily stepped away from the front door and quickly grab something of value. This individual has been part of our community for over three years. He has frequented Flushing as well. He sports a yarmulke and long tzitzis, causing people to let down their guard. Aryeh Markovitz questioned Detective Wynne at the meeting as to why there was such a long delay in getting this person arrested. After all, numerous complaints were filed at least three weeks ago.
The answer that was jointly supplied by Detective Wynne and Elkana Adelman of the RCSP speaks to the positive and negative sides of our justice system. Although numerous complaints were made, there was no solid evidence tying this individual to any of the thefts. There was only circumstantial evidence. Detective Wynne explained that an officer can make an arrest where there is probable cause, yet it may not be wise to do so. If the case against a perpetrator is rather weak, he might be able to successfully escape prosecution and be on guard in future attempts to document the crime. Alternatively, the individual might just attempt to ply his trade elsewhere.
Elkana said that the RCSP did have evidence of theft by this individual, but it was not on the items for which a complaint was registered. Consequently, it was necessary to wait until he was caught red-handed, stealing tefillin from Yeshiva of Far Rockaway. Thankfully, the yeshiva had video surveillance and was able to document the crime. The owner of the tefillin did lodge a complaint and the perpetrator was arrested for the crime. Interestingly, the complaint says he stole tefillin, which are described as “a set of small black leather boxes worn during weekday morning prayers.” The complaint also notes that the bag that contained the tefillin also contained a marker. This author assumes that the marker was in fact a tefillin paint marker.
Jason Shtundel of the RCSP urged all those who attended to inform people of this arrest. The individual may have the combinations to our shuls, homes, and mikvaos. Shul presidents need to be aware of this development and be prepared to possibly change combinations. Apparently this individual has a long rap-sheet, which includes a weapons charge and a sexual-assault charge.
Detective Wynne noted that in the past two years, burglaries have gone down compared to years prior. However, in the 101st Precinct, which extends until Beach 59th, shootings are, unfortunately, higher. The precinct was therefore given 30 extra officers. Instead of rotating officers around areas, as has been done in the past, each officer is assigned a zone. In this way he gets a feel for the neighborhood and knows what to look out for. In addition, the officers partner with community liaisons who explain to them the unique characteristics of their area. To further increase security, the precinct was assigned six extra officers to patrol during the weekends, when crime is typically higher.
As in years past, there will be a HOW vehicle patrolling. I was stumped as to the meaning of this until Detective Wynne explained it as “House of Worship.” This patrol car will not respond to radio calls but will constantly rotate from synagogue to synagogue over the holidays. He looks forward to hearing positive comments from the community about the quality of the policing.
Jason Shtundel informed the crowd that the 101st Precinct had agreed to put officers on the Cornaga Avenue corridor from Far Rockaway to Bayswater on Simchas Torah so people could go “shul hopping” in safety. At other times, he urged those making the trek to do so only in groups, if possible.
Jason Shtundel offered common-sense advice for Sukkos: Close your front door when you are in the sukkah. Don’t leave valuables in the sukkah. Leaving a ladder out on the side of a house is akin to asking a thief, “Please rob me!”
The RCSP also makes a request of the community: Please take down your sukkahs as soon as possible after Sukkos is over. They provide hiding places for thieves and make it harder to apprehend an individual caught by patrols.
With rabbinic approval, the RCSP volunteers will be carrying walkie-talkies even on Shabbos and yom tov. This will facilitate contact with the police in case of emergencies. There will be patrols on Shabbos and yom tov in clearly marked cars. While this may come as a surprise to some, the RCSP has non-Jewish volunteers as well who graciously offered to drive around while the Jewish volunteers cannot. In addition, there will be foot patrols by Jewish volunteers.
Finally, those who attended were gratified to hear that Councilman Donovan Richards included funding for the RCSP in his budget. In fact he even patrolled one night, but it seems the activity only started minutes after he ended his patrol. The councilman was warmly received by the crowd.
The community owes a debt of gratitude to Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder for organizing this meeting. v