Friday, June 23, 2006

UPDATE: Lakewood Rapist

Combat crime together
Asbury Park Press
June 21, 2006

A neighborhood watch group within Lakewood's Orthodox Jewish community has been formed in response to what some leaders say is a loss of faith in the Lakewood police department. Both sides need to work harder to restore that faith. Working together to develop an effective watch group could help.

The group cannot be effective without active involvement of the police. Public Safety Director Al Peters should designate an officer with strong interpersonal skills and an appreciation of the Orthodox community's needs to set the tone and establish the ground rules. Good communication between the department and the community is essential.

The watch group, called a Shomrim — a Hebrew word for "watchers" — comes on the heels of three incidents within the past year involving members of the Orthodox Jewish community. The abduction and sexual assault of a 20-year-old woman last month, which is still unsolved, has been particularly unnerving. Neighborhood group organizers hope the presence of its 30 or so members — connected with cell phones and walkie-talkies — can make the community safer and provide some additional peace of mind.

The neighborhood group organizers are modeling their efforts on a 15-year-old program in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. Shomrim members there have identification badges issued by the police and a level of trust with law enforcement.

"If we work hand-in-hand with the Police Department, they wouldn't allow us to become vigilantes," said Chaim Rubin, one of the Lakewood group's organizers. He described its members' role as neighborhood sentinels who call police when there is a problem.

A close working relationship between the watch group and the police is a must. Peters and the Township Committee must do everything they can to foster it. And the Lakewood police must reassure the Orthodox community and all segments of the diverse township that all crimes will be investigated with an even-handed approach that respects the law and the people it serves.


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