Volunteers with the Brooklyn South Safety Patrol, a licensed, unarmed civilian group in a Hasidic section known as Borough Park, wear blue jackets with emblems, but also skull caps, says the New York Times. Last Thursday, they yelled in Yiddish as chaos erupted in one location. 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, a case last Thursday in which a sex-crime suspect shot four patrol members cast a spotlight on the group 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, many area residents are more likely to call the patrol's hot line number than 911. Brooklyn shomrim groups have not been without controversy, like accusations of vigilantism and actions that stoke racial tensions. Police spokesman Paul Browne cited a “long tradition” of citizen block watches and citizen patrols. The department has had a “close working relationship” with them, he said.