LONDON – Shomrim, a volunteer security organization that patrols areas with large Jewish populations in the UK, has drawn the ire of London’s police commissioner.
Metropolitan Police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe criticized the group recently for wearing uniforms he said were similar to official police garb, and for driving cars with fluorescent markings that he argued made them almost indistinguishable from regular patrol cars.
“I have to be frank, I would like them not to look like police officers,” said Hogan- Howe during an address to rabbis at the annual gathering of the Orthodox United Synagogue movement.
He said that the police were holding discussions on the issue with Shomrim and that he was sure the dialogue would lead to “a positive resolution.”
However, Gary Ost, chief executive of northwest London’s Golders Green Shomrim patrol, disputed that the group was in breach of any regulations and denied there were any discussions with the Metropolitan Police on the issue.
He told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the organization was on excellent terms with the local police units in the two areas of the capital where they operate – the boroughs of Barnet and Hackney.
“Our uniforms look nothing like the police and are marked from every angle with clear wording saying ‘Shomrim,’” Ost stressed.
Shomrim North-West London was established in 2008 and was based on similar groups in the United States.
According to Ost, the group is a “well established voluntary charity, which acts as a neighborhood watch, funded by non-mandatory donations from the communities within our operational area.”
He added that the organization had cooperated with Barnet police since its inception, and that the Shomrim group in Hackney had received police training.
Discussing the issue of similarities in car markings, he said that his group only had one vehicle, which he admitted “may look similar to the look of a police vehicle, but is very clearly marked with the word ‘Shomrim’ on all sides.”
He explained that the vehicle markings were fully compliant with UK road law.
“Many private security companies across the UK chose to use these legal markings on their company vehicles to deter burglars,” he said.
Only police cars are allowed to use reflective signs, which Shomrim’s vehicles do not.
Ost said that the group had not received any complaints about the vehicles’ markings, adding that the organization had even received written approval from the police for them.
“We submitted plans to the Metropolitan Police for our vehicle in 2013 and received written confirmation from them that the vehicle is acceptable in February 2014.
Our vehicle was introduced to the road at the end of 2014.”
On the issue of uniforms, he said that none of the uniforms used or purchased by Shomrim North-West London look anything like those police wear.
“They are all clearly marked with the word ‘Shomrim’ on all sides, and prior to purchasing our uniforms, the Metropolitan Police were consulted and had no objection,” he stated, adding that no member of the group had yet been stopped or accused of impersonating a police officer.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police, however, distanced the organization from the claim that the force engages in close cooperation with or provides training to Shomrim.
London’s police headquarters, Scotland Yard, told the Post Tuesday that while the force praised members of the community “who wish to protect their fellow citizens by intervening when a crime is happening, we would not encourage communities forming their own patrol service.”
Instead, it said, it preferred that the public use the local neighborhood police teams.
The police also stated that they do not provide any specific police training to community groups or engage in joint security relationships with any organizations.
“We do provide community briefings to a large number of bespoke groups across London, including business groups, schools, and neighborhood watches as part of our regular community interactions; [however,] we do not provide any officer safety advice, or equipment, to Shomrim, and we do not use a joint radio system. If the Shomrim want to report a crime, they call 101 or 999 like all other community members.”
Nonetheless, Ost maintained that not only did the group enjoy close contacts with Barnet police, but had regular meetings and briefings.