NEW YORK — On Wednesday, sex crimes investigators for the New York Police Department received a troubling report:
Daskal, 59, was charged with statutory rape, sexual abuse and other crimes. The authorities believe the abuse took place at Daskal’s home between August and November, when the girl, who is now 16, was a year younger. But the inquiry is continuing, to determine if the alleged abuse occurred over a longer period of time or if there were additional victims.
The revelations cast another shadow over a group that has long cultivated relationships with New York’s law enforcement and elected leaders — and that has secured government funding for vehicles, phones and other equipment integral to its brand of security for some of the city’s most insular populations. On several occasions, critics have questioned whether the shomrim’s proximity to authority has fostered vigilantism or corruption.
In May 2016, two men linked to the shomrim of Williamsburg admitted to taking part in the assault of a black man in their neighborhood. A month earlier, Alex Lichtenstein, a former member of Daskal’s Brooklyn South Safety Patrol, which covers Borough Park, was arrested on federal charges of trying to secure handgun permits by offering the police thousands of dollars in cash bribes.
Daskal, 59, was arrested at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, within the 77th police precinct, the police said. He was taken to the Brooklyn Special Victims squad, they said.
On Friday, the police said Daskal had been charged with third-degree rape; third-degree criminal sex act; forcible touching; acting in a manner injurious to a child less than 17; and third-degree sexual abuse. He shuffled, handcuffed, into court for arraignment and pleaded not guilty before Judge Deborah Dowling, who issued an order of protection on behalf of his accuser.
Evan Lipton, a lawyer for Daskal, said his client was prepared to surrender his passport. Afterward, as Daskal was released on bail, some supporters surrounded him in a hallway as Lipton told him, “Your phones have been seized.”
It was not immediately clear what triggered Wednesday’s report to the police.
Around Borough Park, people seemed dazed by the news of the arrest.
“This is the last thing anybody would believe,” said one man, a neighbor, who stood outside Daskal’s house about noon, watching as a van from the Crime Scene Unit pulled to the curb. Throughout the morning, investigators, some wearing latex gloves, converged on the brick duplex set back from 46th Street as onlookers, including several children, gathered outside.
On those same streets, the shomrim are seen as quick-acting stand-ins for police officers. With their two-way radios and social media links, they have won praise for keeping a watchful eye on the community, chasing down burglars, controlling crowds and locating the missing.
Residents, many of whom are Yiddish-speaking and cling to a culture rooted in preindustrial Europe, trust the shomrim as liaisons to secular authorities, who can negotiate language barriers and complex social mores.
According to state campaign finance records, Daskal has been a consistent political contributor over the years.
Police officials, too, have embraced the shomrim. It is commonplace for shomrim leaders to attend promotion ceremonies at Police Headquarters in Lower Manhattan.
In 2015, a year before he became police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, then the chief of department, threw out the first pitch at an annual softball game between officers from the 66th Precinct and members of the Borough Park shomrim. Lichtenstein played in that game, the Greenfield Classic, named for David G. Greenfield, a city councilman who represents the district. In an interview in 2016, however, Daskal denied that Lichtenstein’s criminal case involving the gun permits had anything to do with the shomrim.
On Friday, as investigators streamed in and out of Daskal’s house, signs of their connections were evident. Parked in the street, near Daskal’s driveway, were a pair of shomrim vehicles outfitted like police patrol cars: emergency lights; a shield logo; the words “Courtesy Professionalism Respect” written on the side.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.