Baltimore, MD - Nov. 3, 2017 - The year was 2004 and the community started to experience an uptick in burglaries. Community members’ homes were being broken into and Avi Rosenbluth was tired of hearing that there was nothing we could do about the crime. This gave Avi the idea of getting a small group of civic minded men together to see if there was a way they could assist local law enforcement apprehend the perpetrators. Under the direction of then Deputy Commissioner Marcus Brown this group of close to 20 men began to patrol the streets of the community from 10:00 pm-4:00 am to see if they could observe the suspects. Should they see suspicious behavior during these hours they would relay the information in real time to the Police Department. Working with Lieutenants Dave Rosenblatt and Rick Peel within three nights the suspects were apprehended and an arrest was made. And so was the very beginning of Baltimore Shomrim. Taking an example from other Jewish communities throughout New York, there was a growing need in the community for a mechanism for individuals in trouble to have the ability to call for proactive assistance. Shomrim utilizes the greater community to be part of the crime prevention and resolution solution by offering a 24 hour hotline for those who need help. This help can be regarding a stolen bicycle or a stolen car. This help can even be regarding a missing child or vulnerable adult.
After their initial success in assisting the Baltimore City Police Department’s burglary unit, the founding members of Shomrim, began to organize. It became quite evident that the BPD could not be everywhere and that additional “eyes and ears” would be a great resource for the Department. Taking the concept of “eyes and ears” of the law enforcement to an even higher level, the founders saw that by utilizing the entire community as partners in crime prevention they could multiply their efforts substantially. A 24/7 hotline was established and within a short period of time the organization grew to over 30 members. These members were able to raise the funds to obtain a radio system. The system was analog and not nearly as sophisticated at the equipment the organization has today, but it worked. The next question was would people call and start being more aware of their surroundings. The answer was a resounding “yes”. Slowly the hotline and dispatchers went from taking 25 calls a month to 50 calls a month, to suddenly fielding a steady stream of over a 100 calls each and every month. Today it is not uncommon for the organization to deal with over 200 calls within one month’s time.
Meanwhile at the same time as the organization began to grow internally, so did the relationship with local law enforcement. Working with Baltimore City and Baltimore County Police Departments the organization began to build the community-police relationship. When dealing with police, government and elected officials, change is a slow process. The Shomrim began to get traction on that front as well, working with the various Northwest District Police majors over the years a close reciprocal relationship was forged. Today the relationship is so solidified that there is a permanent Shomrim frequency “base station” siting on the front desk of the Northwest district. Members of Shomrim meet regularly with high ranking police officials and even the Police Commissioner. There is hardly a member of the Baltimore Police Department command staff that is not familiar with the work Shomrim does.
Shomrim over the years has been involved in many routine calls but at times unique calls come in that are even beyond one’s imagination. One such call involved a Spanish speaking woman calling for help, she said she and her children were locked in a storage facility, her phone battery was about to die and the facility had closed. She began to panic. The Shomrim dispatcher kept the caller calm and told her he would try and get her help. The dispatcher thought she may be in the storage facility on Reisterstown Road and would get either a Shomrim member or the Police department to go over to the facility and let her out. However when the dispatcher asked where she was, he thought he heard the words “San Francisco”. At first he thought he misunderstood as there was a language barrier, but he heard correctly. Somehow this women dialed the Baltimore Shomrim ‘s hotline. The dispatcher didn’t give up and got as many details as possible and called the San Francisco Police Department. While the tale seemed farfetched the dispatcher’s perseverance had police units in San Francisco dispatched to the storage facilities in the vicinity and low and behold the woman and children were located and released. The San Francisco Police department even gave the Shomrim Dispatcher a Certificate of Appreciation for his cross country life saving actions. We still do not know how or why this woman called the Shomrim hotline, but some say it was a higher power acting as her operator that put the call through. By the way that dispatcher didn’t stop serving the greater community after that call, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer actually went on to being elected to the City Council of Baltimore City several years later.
Another area of assistance where the Shomrim has been helpful has been in the area of missing persons. Working with Hatzalah and Chaveirim, Shomrim has taken the lead in the community when it comes to missing persons cases. Many of the details of these searches are sensitive in nature, but these searches have at times lasted several days and taken members of the organization as far as an hour drive from the immediate community. When it comes to the safety and wellbeing of community members, Shomrim will not rest until the missing person is found. The organization has even received calls from families or counter-part Shomrim agencies in New York to assist in finding a loved one who they believe went missing and may have landed in the Baltimore area. Local Police agencies have called Shomrim for assistance as well to assist them in missing person searches. Again it this this close network Shomrim has with other organizations and agencies around the country that make Shomrim such a vital institution for our community.
Detailing 13 years of 1000’s of calls cannot be addressed in one article, but most recently when our neighborhoods have experienced violent car-jackings, Shomrim jumped into action and assisted law enforcement to make arrests in two separate criminal sprees. In both cases the suspects were apprehended and taken into custody on the very same day as the crimes were perpetrated.
After 13 years of serving the community, this all volunteer organization is holding its first Anniversary Banquet. The organization wants to demonstrate appreciation for the support of the community and to recognize the two first Presidents of the organization, Danny Harris and Ronnie Rosenbluth and welcome in the next generation of Shomrim leadership, President Michael Diamond and Vice Presidents, Heshy Klein and Aaron Polun. Aaron Polun, Chair of the Anniversary Banquet, commented that “this banquet is a fantastic opportunity to show these selfless volunteer members of the organization that their efforts are noticed and appreciated. This is also an opportunity to thank local law enforcement and elected officials that have been so instrumental in the success of Shomrim.” The banquet is scheduled for November 11, 2017 at 8:30 pm at Congregation Shomrei Emunah. For more information visit www.shomrimbanquet.com.
Nathan Willner is the President of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, and volunteers as General Counsel of the Baltimore Shomrim Safety Patrol.