Since establishing a Board of Directors and incorporating a handful of new coordinators, Queens Shmira has quickly become a vital communal resource for public safety measures. Their team of volunteers has seamlessly coordinated with the highest levels of city law enforcement, garnering praise from the three police precincts that cover the swath of neighborhoods housing the religious Jewish community of Queens.
On a recent Motza’ei Shabbos, a keen-eyed Queens Shmira member identified via live streamed surveillance footage an individual trespassing on his Fresh Meadows lawn as the perpetrator who only a few days prior had stolen one of his family’s lawn chairs right off their front porch! Upon making the positive ID, the young man decided to trail the alleged criminal. Simultaneously, the member alerted the Queens Shmira emergency hotline per organizational protocol, and NYPD was quickly summoned via a 911 call. Backup from Shmira was hastily requested of available members to assist with keeping tabs on the thief. Quite a few members responded and closely followed him until police apprehended and arrested the man on charges of theft.
The following day, local involvement again proved key to the arrest of an outlaw duo sought for breaking into a community member’s car and making off with a hoard of personal effects and bank-issued cards some days earlier. Queens Shmira wasted no time sharing a BOLO (Be On the Look-Out) alert community-wide. Kew Gardens Hills residents responded in droves with various sightings on the whereabouts of the bandits who had thus far been eluding police. A final tip into Shmira’s hotline led members, me included, cornering in on the man and his girlfriend along Park Drive East a couple blocks off Union Turnpike. Police officers, including a plain-clothed Deputy Inspector Kevin Chan, then Commanding Officer of the 107th precinct, cuffed the two suspects for the grand larceny incidents known to the public, and also for a petty larceny reported mere minutes earlier that afternoon at the 7-Eleven at Main Street and Jewel Avenue.
Much of Queens Shmira’s work in the community occurs under the darkness of night, when the growing roster of members patrol our borough. While canvassing Union Turnpike in one of the organization’s marked vehicles, a member and his shift partner came upon an idling car parked smack in the middle of the thoroughfare. The devoted public safety volunteers tried to no avail to grab the attention of the sole occupant, a driver who had passed out behind the wheel. The members alerted me, the on-call dispatcher, when a decision was made to summon law enforcement, who arrived within minutes. The 107-affiliated police officers arrested the vehicle operator for driving under the influence, bringing a close to this peculiar mid-December incident that could have ended much worse.
The following evening, a Queens Shmira member and his son, a student in Yeshiva of Central Queens’ early childhood division, were attending a Zos Chanukah celebration on 69th Avenue just off 147th Street in Kew Gardens Hills, a few houses from my family’s residence. Suddenly, the youngster signaled to his father a house fire slowly worsening just across the street. On instinct, the coolheaded member called for the FDNY, additional Shmira personnel, and the medical expertise of Hatzolah of Queens and Great Neck, which collectively saved a frum family from suffering a terrible outcome.
Twenty-four hours later, a member on patrol in the Forest Hills section of Queens spotted a vehicle without license plates and bearing recent body damage parked alongside the Grand Central Parkway. Noticing the E-ZPass tag still on the dashboard, the member strongly suspected that the vehicle may have been stolen. Upon investigation by the 112th police precinct, suspicion turned to fact, culminating in a Fresh Meadows car owner reunited with his recently taken car.
In recent months, Queens Shmira provided public safety at a variety of communal programming for all ages and sects of Queens Jewry, providing an added measure of protection at a time when it’s unfortunately needed most. Members, often under my direction and in coordination with the NYPD, provided safety to celebrants and onlookers at well over a dozen hachnosos Sifrei Torah, a handful of Chanukah car parades, various Chanukah public menorah lightings and concerts often with crowds in the hundreds, including the mega Gad Elbaz Cunningham Park production.
During the same period, the organization conducted an easy half-dozen missing person searches lasting from minutes to hours to weeks, which reunited missing children, teenagers, and elders, often with underlying medical conditions, with their worried loved ones who turned to Queens Shmira for help.
The evening of December 21 stands out as a shining moment for Queens Shmira, which responded to a hotline call for unsafe slippery roadways on 72nd Ave between Park Drive East at 141st Street. Ultimately, members closed off the heavily-travelled road, alerted applicable utilities and governmental agencies including the Office of the Mayor, and ensured that an emergency response was carried out in the aftermath of a water main break, preventing a very dangerous situation that could have resulted in catastrophe.
On December 27, a BOLO for a man accused of chronic harassment was issued. First identified for stealing a stack of s’forim, yeshivah bachurim gave chase, forcing him to dump the load of books and escape via an MTA bus on Main Street. Two days later, on Shabbos morning, a Shmira member was flagged down by individuals outside the Jewish Center of KGH for an emotionally-disturbed man pacing and talking to himself while clenching a suitcase at the building’s entrance. A member engaged the man in conversation, and he revealed that he worked at the neighborhood 7-Eleven. Realizing this man fit the description of the thief from earlier in the week, our member walked the man to the store, where staff acknowledged that the individual in question is well-known to them as a kleptomaniac. When the man saw that his ruse was up, he spat in the face of one of our members and then tried to trap our member inside the shop before fleeing onto a city bus. It was not until the next erev Shabbos that the disturbed man resurfaced, this time at the 76th Avenue TD Bank branch, accused of repeatedly screaming anti-Semitic slurs by a hotline caller who recognized the mischief-maker from the BOLO. Shmira members tracked the man down to Main Street and Jewel Avenue, where they witnessed the man stealing from 7-Eleven. NYPD was notified of the urgency by a plain-clothed member who acted as an arbitrator between the store clerk and shoplifter. 107 police officers pulled up to the scene 15 minutes later and our members swiftly identified the offender, who was promptly arrested and remains incarcerated.
The next day, a Shmira member was looking at his outdoor live surveillance cameras and witnessed a man by his front lawn waiting for the chance to steal two packages recently delivered to a neighbor. The member called for urgent backup from peers and placed a 911 call that was timely answered by responding officers, who arrested the man for package theft. Porch pirates have been an ongoing issue plaguing Queens neighborhoods, leaving community members on edge.
I leave readers with an incident from this past Monday evening that unfolded in the JCPenney area of the parking structure at the Queens Center Mall, where a swastika was photographed scrawled on a parking barrier. A hotline caller notified us of their concern from the mall security’s response to the anti-Semitic marking. The caller also made police aware of the marking, but did not have full confidence that an investigation would follow. Determined to have the filth cleared before the mall opened the next morning, I enlisted the help of my friend, Council Member Lynn Schulman, Queens’ sole Jewish Caucus member, who wasted no time contacting peers and enforcement. I was given reassurance that the swastika would be erased. Within a few short hours, the hatred was washed away. Am Yisrael chai!
By Shabsie Saphirstein, Community Outreach Coordinator, Queens Shmira
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