The Lakewood, N.J., police department is now assisting Jewish residents with simple tasks, like turning on the lights or retrieving emergency medication from the drugstore, as a way of accommodating the town’s increasingly large, Shabbat-observant Orthodox population. Orthodox Jews account for nearly two thirds of Lakewood’s 90,000 residents.
“That’s the kind of community services that I encourage the officers to assist with,” Lakewood Police Chief Robert Lawson explained at the November 13 Ocean County Prosecutor’s excellently-named Bagels, Lox and Cops event. He added that similar discussions have “made the officers much more culturally sensitive to the customs and practices of the Orthodox citizens of Lakewood.”
While some residents raised concerns about the police department providing what may be perceived as preferential treatment to one segment of the population, officials made assurances that this new practice is in no way an errand service for the Shabbat observant. Lawson said that activities of this type will be restricted to cases where officers are “riding around during a holiday or during the Sabbath and someone is requesting to give them assistance.”
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato added, “It’s very important that we understand various people’s cultures and their religion.”
Zack Schrieber is an intern at Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @zschrieber.