MAY 15, 2008
“When it comes to helping people – we are color blind,” says Shmira coordinator Yanky Prager. “Our goal is that every one should live in peace. Live and let live.”
Prager has a letter of appreciation dated January 22, 1998, signed by then Deputy Chief Joseph Fox thanking him for saving the life of Police Officer Jamayne Anthony. Prager is a certified EMT. “I reached the officer before the EMS,” recounts Prager in a tone void of pride. “He had been hit in the Femoral artery. I did not know at the time that the wound was life threatening. I gave him oxygen and put pressure on the wound until the police came. I continued the treatment on the way to the emergency room in the back of a patrol car – we did not wait for an ambulance.” In his service with Shmira he has rescued three officers from life threatening situations and dozens of civilians.
Thirty percent of Shmira members are certified EMT’s. When they hear of an incident that others run away from – they run right into the midst of the scene to see how they can help. They were some of the first responders to the Twin Towers, treating wounded and recovering bodies. They were on location – literally in the cloud – when the second tower fell.
Prager gave another example of ‘color blind’ operations, “Our members noticed an older black woman being mugged in the entrance to the subway across from 770 [770 Eastern Parkway is the address of the principal synagogue of Chabad Chassidim]. They chased the two perpetrators past the next block. They overtook them and held them until the police came.”
On May 2, 2008, Shmira member Leon ‘Chaim’ Yavich rescued a black girl from an attempted rape at knifepoint. Yavich lives on the top floor of a building with a majority of African Americans and a few Jewish families. Well aware that he would be intervening in a scenario outside of his own culture and therefore risking his own life, he took his phone in hand and ventured out to find the source of desperate screams coming from the stairwell near his apartment. “Despite my desire to help a person in distress, if not for my years of training and experience with Shmira, I would have hesitated to act in such a precarious situation in the middle of the night,” admits Yavich.
Prager and a group of friends were teenagers when they joined Shmira in 1990. “The community was smaller when we first joined. We grew up here. We felt like we knew everybody and everybody we knew had been a victim of crime. We were passionate about making our neighborhood a safer place to live. We still are.”
The Shmira Patrol has more than 100 members. Most of the members, like Prager, are in their 30’s or 40’s, men with families. Over the decades since its inception the Shmira Patrol has saved lives, prevented injuries and protected property from damage. Potential burglars and muggers in Crown Heights know that Shmira is a threat to them. Residents feel more secure knowing Shmira is just a phone call away. When a resident senses fear they call Shmira and 911. Shmira always arrives first. Shmira members patrol the streets of Crown Heights and respond to calls. They receive calls daily, averaging about 25 to 30 calls a week. They are volunteers. Their compensation is the knowledge that they are making their neighborhood a safer place to live.
Shmais dot com, a popular website that reports news of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch community, has reported about some of the incidents where Shmira has been involved. The reports include: apprehending serial burglars, nabbing bike thieves and returning bikes to the owners, assisting in evacuation of a burning building, finding missing children, preventing muggings and break ins and apprehending car thieves. The website has also posted safety bulletins by Shmira.
The following excerpt from a Shmais report indicates the speed with which Shmira responds and how important it is that so many Shmira members are also EMT’s… “The group beat him with an unknown object, stole his ipod and knocked him to the ground leaving him bleeding profusely from the head. The victim managed to walk another block to his friend’s house, where Shmira, Hatzolah and Police were called. Shmira members arrived and immediately started treating the victim to stop the bleeding till Hatzolah took over and rushed the victim to hospital.
“In the aftermath of the attack many Shmira members patrolled the streets of Crown Heights until 4:00 a.m. observing any group that could possibly have matched the description.”
Another report on Shmais illustrates the determination and diligence of Shmira members who took the initiative to check video footage from all surveillance cameras in a particular area and the results that came from taking their evidence and working together with the police:
Shmira and Police Apprehend the Serial Burglar in Crown Heights
11:12:PM Thursday, Jun 14, 2007
After many nights of Shmira patrols and stakeouts, the serial burglar who has been breaking into many homes, and terrorizing the Crown Heights neighborhood has been arrested and successfully picked out of a “line up” at the 71st precinct. This arrest was successful only after members of Shmira patrolled diligently every night, reviewed clips of video surveillance from different properties, and were able to clearly spot this perpetrator at the scene of numerous break ins. With the video surveillance information in hand, a Shmira member went to the 71st precinct on Wednesday morning and reviewed the information with police. At that point the police realized the person in the video surveillance, had just been arrested a short time earlier for a minor offense… If it had not been for the Shmira member bringing in the video, the criminal would have not been associated with repeated break-ins [and would have been released the next morning.]
Shmira would like to thank all its members for the hard work in putting this case together, the community residents who worked with Shmira in handing over video surveillance, and to the members of the 71st precinct for a great and thorough job!
Shmira would like to encourage every home to have proper out door lighting, effective gates and locks on your property, and Video Surveillance with a recording device.