Chaverim of Rockland asks public for security camera access and money for license plate readers

The initiative has raised some privacy concerns, but the organization is otherwise highly praised within Rockland’s Haredi community

An overhead license plate reader in Rockland County. Credit: Shtetl (Overlay: Chaverim ad for “Lend an Eye”)

Mar 6, 2024 1:45 PM


Chaverim of Rockland has asked the public for access to exterior security cameras and for funds to install new cameras and license plate readers around Rockland county, according to a post by the organization last month on X, formerly Twitter. But some experts have expressed concern over potential privacy violations.

Chaverim, which is officially recognized by the Town of Ramapo as an emergency services organization, is a volunteer-run group that helps with roadside assistance, search and rescue, and safety and security matters.

The new initiative, “Lend an Eye,” was also announced in local ad circulars and community bulletins, asking the public, “Do you have a CCTV camera monitoring the street? Give Chaverim access to your exterior cameras to use in case of an emergency.” In addition, Chaverim is asking the public to sponsor the purchase of additional cameras and license plate readers to be placed “in strategic locations around Rockland.”

The Chaverim ads for the “Lend an Eye” campaign

However, some experts are alarmed by this new initiative. Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of STOP, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy advocacy group, told Shtetl, “This sort of system is invasive. It's ripe for abuse.”

Cahn said that while public-facing cameras and license plate readers are legal, they raise serious concerns. “There’s a lot of potential for discrimination or other illegal conduct building off of that data.” Asked about existing regulatory frameworks for such systems, he conceded there isn’t much. “It’s a wild west right now in New York. We have almost no meaningful protections against these sorts of public-private surveillance partnerships.”

The Rockland Haredi community, however, might find security concerns more pressing than privacy issues.

In January 2020, following the antisemitic stabbing attack at a 2019 Chanukah event at the home of a Monsey rabbi, then-governor Andrew Cuomo pledged $680,000 for license plate readers in Monsey and New Square to beef up security for Rockland’s Haredi community, Lohud reported at the time. The stabbing suspect was tracked down using information from an LPR.

According to the Lohud report, Cuomo stressed that privacy concerns need to be balanced with security necessities. “People want privacy, I understand that, but people also want security.” Cuomo added, “This is a community under attack” and “in this case, public safety outweighs privacy.”

According to Justin Schwartz, an Orthodox chaplain at the Spring Valley fire department, Chaverim took on a greater role in safety and security following that attack. It has also earned substantial goodwill within Rockland’s Orthodox Jewish community over the years. Chaverim’s strong grassroots support may serve to head off any concerns over invasion of privacy. 

“They’re do-gooders. They’re what I call the Lone Rangers of the highway,” Schwartz, who is an otherwise frequent critic of Haredi leaders, told Shtetl. “If you call for a flat tire, call for a battery charger, call for a lockout,” he said, Chaverim will show up to help at no cost. “They go to anybody. You can be Jewish, not Jewish, religious, not religious. They’re a bunch of great, dedicated personnel.”

While many other Haredi neighborhoods have separate security organizations such as Shmira or Shomrim, Rockland county does not. Chaverim therefore fills that role as well.

According to a 2013 report by the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, “Databases of license plate reader information create opportunities for institutional abuse” and “open the door to abusive tracking.” The report adds, “Anyone with access to these systems could track his boss, his ex-wife, his romantic or workplace rivals, friends, enemies, neighbors, family.”

The report highlights a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which states, “A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church-goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”

It is currently unclear what measures Chaverim is taking to protect the data from misuse or abuse. 

According to an article last year in the Yiddish-language Shtiebel magazine, Yosef Margaretten, the Chaverim coordinator and a member of the Ramapo Taxi and Limousine Commission, urged another Monsey organization, Mareches, to demand that non-Jewish taxicab companies have security cameras installed in all vehicles and give Chaverim access to the footage at all times.

Chaverim has declined Shtetl’s repeated requests for comment.

Ramapo Police Detective Sergeant Michael Higgins told Shtetl that Chaverim’s security camera initiative was an independent program and not directly affiliated with the police department in any way. But, he added, any information the police receive from groups like Chaverim are “absolutely welcomed and helpful to us.”

An ongoing crowdfunding campaign for Chaverim has received over a million dollars in donations, and includes the UJA-Federation of New York among its sponsors.