By Sasha Chavkin
Terrence Joseph, a retired computer systems analyst in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, had been struggling for almost two years to get a citizen’s patrol underway.
The largely Caribbean neighborhood has a high crime rate, but also has sometimes had rocky relations with the police. Joseph said he began organizing residents so they could improve public safety themselves.
“This is how the idea was born,” he said, ”was wanting to find a way that the community can address some of these problems on its own.”
But Joseph couldn’t find anyone who would provide the resources he needed.
Then, he and his fellow volunteers encountered an unlikely partner: the Shomrim from neighboring Flatbush. Shomrim are Orthodox Jewish patrol groups that play crucial roles in providing public safety in their tight-knit and sometimes insular communities.
The partnership is unusual: blacks and Jews haven’t always had the best relationship. Flatbush is right next to Crown Heights, where in 1991 tensions between the two groups erupted into riots. In fact, Shomrim from other Brooklyn neighborhoods have been accused of racial insensitivity.
But when a local Assemblywoman, Helene Weinstein told Chaim Deutsch, the director of the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol, about the emerging patrol in neighboring East Flatbush, Deutsch decided to lend his expertise.
“You have a plumber, a plumber knows plumbing. But if you have something that can help other communities, no matter what it is, no matter what your profession is, then its right thing to share it,” Deutsch said.
The Shomrim have provided shortwave radios and vests to the East Flatbush group, and the East Flatbush group came to the Shomrim headquarters for a training from Deutsch this spring.
Eventually, the East Flatbush group wants to organize joint patrols with the Shomrim. Except right now, Joseph says he has not yet been able to organize regular patrols among his own group. But he will continue to have the support of the Shomrim, whose rigorous organization and strong sense of community he has come to admire.
“They’ve got a nice community, a developed community, a pretty well-organized and a financially supportive community,” Joseph said of the Shomrim. “We have a way yet to go to get there. But we’ll get there too.”