Midwood Spy Cams Go to Group Accused of Shielding Sex Predators From Police

By Eli Rosenberg (Brooklyn Daily)
May 24, 2012

An ultra-Orthodox religious group that discourages Jews from reporting sex crimes to police without first consulting a rabbi is getting $1 million from the state to install security cameras to catch criminals and child predators on the streets of Midwood and Borough Park — but police won't get to see vital footage first.

State officials confirmed that Agudath Israel of America — a group that urges Jews not to report sex abuse claims to police before getting approval from a rabbi — would administer the program to install cameras focusing on sidewalks, schools, banks, and synagogues to help catch sex predators in the two neighborhoods.

But the NYPD won't be the ones monitoring the surveillance feed. Plans are in motion to give the Shomrim, a volunteer security force in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish communities, access to the footage, and possibly control what the police will see, and critics say that could shield Jewish criminals from cops.

"That's worse than not having the cameras," said Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who runs a hotline for sexual abuse victims. "Every time a rabbi or Jewish person molests a child or kidnaps one, you'll never get the information."

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who advocated for the cameras, confirmed that neighborhood volunteers will have control of the cameras.

"Camera output will be accessed by private volunteer organizations and can be reviewed by authorized police officials," a statement from Hikind's office says.

Hikind (D–Borough Park) backed his choice of giving the camera program to Agudath Israel, despite its stand on reporting crimes to police.

"No organization is perfect," he said. "The money has to flow through an organization and they are respected, well-known and trusted. We had to choose somebody we were comfortable with."

Calls to Agudath, which also runs summer youth camps, job placement programs, and oversee a network of Orthodox synagogues throughout the city, were not returned.

Agudath Israel has been repeatedly criticized for its practice of "mesirah," a code that frowns upon Jews handing fellow Jews to secular authorities unless a rabbi thinks the criminal complaints are credible.

A New York Times report earlier this month accused District Attorney Charles Hynes of tacitly endorsing the practice because he knew of it and didn't do anything stop it.

The camera program was created in the aftermath of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky's abduction and murder in Borough Park last summer, where a camera image helped police track down suspect Levi Aron.

Aron is due back in court this week.