By RABBI GARY MOSKOWITZ
Still in shock we must focus our attention to how such a horrific tragedy could occur and what went wrong in the rescue efforts of precious innocent Leiby. There are those who don’t want to point fingers as they must realize by now are pointing in their direction and threaten the very fabric of the way they do business in the community and with government. Ignorance and arrogance permeates the air in Boro Park and in much of the orthodox Jewish community.
Egregious errors in judgment leading to serious ethics violations at best to sinister crimes will be exposed which I pray compel the city or state to hold hearings how the community and police conspire to protect their images at the cost of great suffering of the weak and most frail in our community. Yes, I believe the Leiby murder could have been prevented if proper caution and care were taken prior to the kidnapping and certainly if the rescue effort was more professional. I am detailing this with other cases in my book “Chasing Justice – I am my Brother’s Keeper.”
The insular orthodox community which breeds insular crime feels that a collective appearance which influences both public and private funding is more important than the individual no matter what the misery. Pedophiles and domestic batterers have a good life knowing that there is little chance their victim will come forward out fear of the community’s religious psychological terror campaign against anyone who threatens the ban of approaching the secular courts or press. Many in the religious leadership indoctrinate their congregants and followers that they would be in violation of Jewish law if they would turn in any Jew to an outside jurisdiction namely our secular courts regardless of their crimes against their community. They fail to realize they are not living in ancient sovereign Israel as they have no jurisdiction in criminal matters as they openly violate the law of our land which by itself is a violation of Jewish law and this is accomplished and facilitated under the protection of many politicians kowtowing to their strong influence from block voting.
Beyond the public congratulations between the volunteer’s community’s security patrol known as the Shomrim and the NYPD there are deep feelings of mistrust and resentment emanating from both sides. The NYPD knows that the Shomrim are not accountable to anyone, have little or no professional training, hinder serious criminal investigations and yet the community has more faith and trust in them as they often seem to show up the NYPD on many occasions. The Shomrim experiences regularly the often reported headline news of the NYPD’s incompetency, laziness and outright refusal to take and investigate complaints as the rest of us know. While disdain runs both ways their relationship is cemented by a larger common interest – keeping the statistics low anyway possible regardless of violations of law. This complicit relationship often means people like the murderer Levy Aron often stays out of harm’s way until there is a body count. The police keep crime down when they don’t report it and Boro Park keeps their image.
Every second is crucial in a missing child’s case. There is no time to guess during an emergency. The following information comes from multi-media reports, interviews with reporters, parents in Boro Park, the Shomrim, canvassing volunteers and with members of the NYPD on the abduction and murder of Leiby Kletsky. I am convinced more information will come out shedding light on the debacle of the case. This is a brief oversimplification of the problems of the Leiby kidnapping/murder case which collectively contributed to this human tragedy.
There is no parent training in Child Safety for most of the community and since most do not watch television or use on the internet for fear of being over exposed to the bad influences of the world they do not have access to much public information on the subject. There is no community preparation for the obvious, missing kids, awareness of sex offenders in area, terror attack etc. As a result ignorance overwhelms many people. Most people I spoke with still believe that a child has to be missing for 24 hours first before the Police get involved which is not true. The Jewish civilian patrol Shomrim like most civilian patrols have little or no professional training and often practice rescue searches during the emergency itself. Rabbinical pressure on the community to call a rabbi first or their designees in this case the Shomrim regarding crimes are a must with full knowledge of the NYPD. This includes missing child cases as the rabbinical leadership does not desire unwanted scrutiny in their community which is fodder for another article.
Leiby’s mother waited an hour before calling for help and then she first called the Shomrim. The Shomrim then waited another three hours to notify the police thereby loosing precious time where if the NYPD was brought in right away other resources could have been deployed. Additionally the Shomrim keeps records of suspected criminals/pedophiles which the police department has no access to opening legal consequences from the right and left and while they have access themselves they have no authority to do anything with it without involving civil and/or criminal activities. Finally thousands of dedicated volunteers showed up with no clear direction.
When police finally arrive it became a fanfare of high profile imaging where commanders flaunt their political friendships without the proper investigative tactics which ultimately could have saved the boy’s life. The hero here is a man name Yakov German who initially had the idea to check the video surveillance cameras from the stores surrounding the school/camp area where Leiby was walking from.
Why weren’t the police detectives and commanders many who are getting paid over $110,000 a year and many with only a high school diploma pouring through these videos like Yakov German did right away? Even when they first got Yakov’s video showing Leiby’s last whereabouts it took them hours longer to bring in another detective who specializes in identifying cars to identify the car of Levy Aron.
From reports in the media and from volunteers who were there validated my own assumption from my prior experiences as a police officer with these cases involving the NYPD. Complacency with no immediate sense of urgency resonated from some officers believing that little Leiby will turn up later as what happens in most cases they work on. The “Here we go again attitude” where the belief is that Leiby is probably at a friends house where he fell asleep. This is very similar to when officers answer commercial and residential burglar alarms. With so many being false the police often become lax in their response and investigation. They need to treat every case as real and think of the false alarms as practice for when the real thing happens.
Even more insidious is the belief by many in the community and by some of the officers working there that the Chassidic orthodox Jews have too much clout which negatively affects their police performance. One cop asked me, “Do you think the police brass with all their helicopters and squads of detectives would have come if there was a missing black kid? Two weeks after this diabolical murder the police in the 66 precinct in Boro Park still have not received any additional training about missing children or dealing with the local public as was reported to me by officers in the command. In short the police need much retraining in thinking and investigating.
After Leiby’s murder the Jewish community had a hug fest thanking the police and other groups for their sincerity in helping to find Leiby. Huge ads were taken in the Jewish press. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I am sure everyone sincerely wanted to find Leiby alive and well. However their lack of training and lack of professionalism precluded this. I sincerely hope that there was an error in the media when it reported that members of the police department said that the time factor of receiving the videos depicting where Leiby was last seen wouldn’t have made a difference. According to the medical examiner Lieby wasn’t murdered until Tuesday.
Leiby could have and should have been found alive and there is plenty of blame and blood to go around!
In my recent meetings with NY State Senator Marty Golden, NYC Council Public Safety Chair Peter Vallone, Congressional candidate David Weprin and NYS Assembly Dov Hikind’s legislative staff member I detailed some practical and legislative recommendations to protect our children and community. These are recommendations I have made in the past regarding protecting us from child abductions, terrorism and crime.
High grade cameras installed around businesses near schools and Houses of Worship which are accessible in real time from the internet so there is no waiting hours to access fuzzy video footage.
Video footage needs to be monitored regularly so we can detail hostile surveillance from potential abductors. If a pedophile is hanging out at a school or camp it can be detected before a situation arises. Police reports mention that this was a chance encounter by a loner. We don’t know that and there is a real possibility that Levy Aron as with other abductors was tracking Leiby and that he could have been working with another accomplice.
Technology has come of age where we can outfit every child with a tracking device on their person like we put on our cars. Every kid seven and older can carry a cell phone programmed to call only their parents or 911. Alarms can be programmed and placed on children that go off when they separate at a certain distance.
We must train and deploy a citizen detective program training parents how they can assist and facilitate police investigations very much the auxiliary police do with patrol. Compel professional training to volunteer community patrols like the Shomrim who are dedicated to keeping their community safe or they should lose all funding.
Enforce mandated reporting of educators and specific community leaders including clergy with criminal and civil penalties for not reporting suspected crimes against children and with cases of domestic violence.
Schools, camps and youth programs should not release kids except to a parent or a responsible adult approved by the parents.
Make available the listing of all residential sexual offenders in the community.
Legislation needs to be passed that in the investigation of any child abduction or terror attack the police do not need the permission of any owner to access the video saving hours of time.
Mandating parochial schools and camps for all their staff to be fingerprinted and go through a similar background check as the NYC Department of Education puts their teachers through.
Creation of a NYS license called “Child Safety Specialist” where every public and private school and camp would be mandated to have a Child Safety Specialist training kids, parents and educators a few times annually before, during and after school starts.
Anyone who is aware that a child is missing within the first hour and doesn’t report it to their police department should face felony charges.
Offer tax credits for those who spend funds on safety for their children from martial arts classes, Safety Instructional DVDs, safety cameras to child safety classes. Creation of our Clergy 911 program where all clergy would be trained in crisis intervention and mandating reporting.
A government, religion and community are judged by how they protect the weakest in their society; the sick, the poor, the victim and the oppressed. The bible is replete with statements like “Justice, Justice You Should Pursue and “Don’t Stand Idly by the Blood of your Neighbor” and much more. Denying justice to the weakest for some warped sense of community/religious image is a threat to justice everywhere. Since most of the leadership is either complicit or missing in inaction we are appealing to mothers to rise up and protect your children, yourselves and Jewish and American law.
Our group the Child Safety Initiative made up of professionals in the health, medical, educational, police, legal and rabbinic fields are calling for a federal civil rights probe leading to hearings to determine which mandated organization, educational institution, community group and individuals working with the minority Jewish community were/are coercing individuals not to assert their rights in reporting crimes and testifying in court against their assailants. We implore victims and those who are aware of victims in the community to come forward to us. We can offer those coming forward protection by working with the Department of Justice. We are also calling for any rabbi or community leader who espouses their congregants and people to go to a rabbi first in the event of a suspected crime bypassing the police should face criminal and civil rights charges.
Lastly as I strenuously try to apply my grief and anger management techniques to myself my advice for my own Orthodox community is I pray you awaken from your coma soon. Don’t wait again for a body count. Take your energies, money and resources and invest it in practical preventive and therapeutic care. The community doesn’t need more dedications of Torahs and synagogues in memorials. We need more safety and security for our children in our communities.
We at the Child Safety Initiative have been offering child safety seminars and martial arts classes regularly. We are completing our first Child Safety DVD which will be available shortly and we are hosting a Child Safety and Health conference at the last week of August at the Kutcher’s Hotel. In September we are holding our first annual Child Safety and Health Legislative forum. Don’t be reactive be proactive.
As the Jewish New Year approaches and Jews around the world become more reflective of their lives I kneel before God scratching the floor weeping in agony looking towards the heavens with shouts from my heart – Why? I can almost hear whispers of, “Don’t ask God – ask Man!
Rabbi Gary Moskowitz is director of the Child Safety Initiative and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org