Source: NYPD Lets Civilians Conduct Traffic Control for Hanukkah Parade

We never did get a response from NYPD about the motorized Lubavitcher Hanukkah parade where civilians with lights and sirens on their SUVs made a mess of traffic control on Sixth Avenue. But a source affiliated with the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council filled in the blanks, saying the parade is authorized by NYPD. The source asked to remain anonymous to preserve his relationship with police. While NYPD has not responded to our request to confirm this information, the source was clearly familiar with details of the parade, his account was internally consistent, and he had no discernible motive to mislead.

The parade consists of about 200 motor vehicles (including at least one RV called a “mitzvah tank” bearing the likeness of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson) and follows a route that begins in Crown Heights and ends at Sixth Avenue and 59th Street, where participants disperse to distribute menorahs, he said.

Accompanying the parade are three NYPD highway patrol cars and about 10 to 15 vehicles with Crown Heights Shmira, according to the source. Shmira is affiliated with the 71st Precinct through NYPD’s Civilian Observation Patrol program, which the department says consists of “volunteers” who “patrol their own neighborhoods and report suspicious and criminal activity that require Police attention.”

The training for the COP program includes how to block streets, the source said, and the Shmira members are authorized by NYPD to perform traffic control during this parade (and only during this parade). The black traffic control SUVs in the video belong to Shmira members, who are authorized by NYPD to have lights and sirens, according to the source. Other than the parade, he said, the lights and sirens are only supposed to be used when responding to “a real emergency call.”

h/t Bucky Turco for the initial tip and video

  • walks bikes drives

    OK, so look at it this way: it is better to have a parade that only blocks traffic while it is in progress than one where they block off the streets for a considerable amount of time before and after the parade, and utilizing hundreds or thousands of hours of officer time. Since they have as much a right as anyone to put on a parade, this seems the best use of resources. I have seen NYPD block intersections incorrectly, and when it happens, it should be pointed out so that they can learn from their mistakes.

    Honestly, Ben, I don’t get why there is so much attention on this.

  • BBnet3000

    I’ll do you one better: a parade is a better use of the public right of way than general traffic.

    The COP program and the deputizing and public support of religious groups is a serious concern, but it’s not really a transportation issue. I think this is just sour grapes over the treatment of this vs Critical Mass.

  • The entire issue is the disparate treatment of that group as compared not only to Critical Mass, but also to Summer Streets and the Five Boro Bike Tour, both of which are infested with cops. Legitimate anger at this inequity should not be dismissed by terming it “sour grapes”. When the City lets bicylists police our own gatherings, then no one will complain about any other group getting the same privilege.

    Adding to the outrage is that, in the case of Summer Streets, the excuse for not extending it or holding it more often is the expense of the overtime for the excessive amount of cops.

  • walks bikes drives

    Out of curiosity, has TA gone through the parade permit process for Critical Mass any time recently? I seem to remember they did in the very beginning and we’re denied. So just wondering if they have tried again, or taken it further though the legal process. I fully support Critical Mass and would like to see it not the pariah it is.

  • walks bikes drives

    Summer Streets is a different story. I think police presence is important there. Critical Mass should be allowed, but it is not for political reasons that should be overcome. In this case, it was a fluid progressing parade, which is different from summer streets. Critical Mass should be allowed, initially with police presence to block the streets, and eventually with primarily civilian escorts. The issue is, this parade should be used as an example as why Critical Mass should be allowed, not held in a way to make it look like this was a bad thing and the parade should not have been allowed. It just sounds like cutting off the nose to spite the face.

  • D’BlahZero

    I don’t doubt that the NYPD knew about this in advance and allowed it to happen as it did. On the other hand, I’m highly suspect that the behavior of the drivers in this video was “authorized” in any official way. Is there any legal circumstance in which someone – even a police officer – can cover the tags on their vehicles?

  • Menachem Goldstein

    Lubavitch also uses Sukkah Mobiles during Sukkot . it consists of a sukkah on the bed of a pickup truck. In recent years, they’ve begun using small sukkahs built on the back of pedicabs and cycle them throughout the city. Which is a really cool.

  • Morris Zapp

    If I don’t have an official-looking black SUV to equip with fake police lights and sirens, would it be all right to impersonate NYPD with a fake uniform and badge?

  • kevd


    hassids with cars can cork, but hippies with bikes can’t. because hassids deliver votes en masse to politicians.

    but a hanukah parade?
    good for them. I don’t really care.

  • Eric McClure

    If the “parade” was authorized, why did they have to obscure their license plates? A cop’s not allowed to tape over his badge.

  • sam

    a few years ago, one of these god-awful “mitzvah tanks” parked itself a block from my apartment and started blaring klezmer music through loudspeakers. at 11pm. On a Tuesday. I tried calling both 311 and 911, and basically got told to go pound sand, even though they were disturbing the entire neighborhood. (the noise drowned out all the noise in my own apartment, and people closer to the RV were literally shouting out their windows at these guys). I’m jewish myself, but I don’t know why these guys think being “religious” somehow gives them the right to create a disturbance of the peace in the middle of the night in a residential neighborhood – but the fact that apparently the police won’t do anything to stop them is a good sign that they’ve been de facto granted that right.

    I finally had to resort to self – help, by marching out to Columbus Avenue, in my pajamas (basically gym clothes), pounding on the RV door, and when they answered, letting loose with a stream of obscenities and cursing the likes of which I can’t even describe.

    It took them about 30 seconds to shut down and flee the neighborhood. They haven’t been back since.

  • I’m sure Shmira labor is cheaper than assigning more officers to Hanukkah parade duty, but is this event safe? Doesn’t look like it.

    This is not your typical neighborhood group parade, moving through a few miles of streets at walking speed in broad daylight. This is a night-time, motorized parade moving at a ~20 mph clip over a ~12-mile course that includes the most crowded pedestrian streets in the city. Despite the logistical challenges compared to most other parades of this scale, NYPD lets amateurs with flashing SUVs handle the bulk of the traffic control.

  • Andrew Balmer

    I don’t agree that it’s acceptable to let a private group self-police its parades with siren-equipped SUVs, but I will concede that there’s at least some room for debate on this issue.

    That said, the obscuring of license plates is despicable. There is NEVER, EVER a legitimate reason for doing this.

  • HamTech87

    Can’t disagree more. This is clearly an issue of the streets, and worthy of coverage by Streetsblog. If this is how the City is going to permit parades going forward, I’m very worried. Specifically…
    1) The covering of license plates has got to be illegal;
    2) The non-response by the ‘person in charge’ to a question by the public about the blocked right-of-way;
    3) The lack of public notice about the existence of the parade, providing people a heads-up to pick an alternative route or just to be aware; and,
    4) The reckless and dangerous use of a multi-ton vehicle, as epitomized by the SUV driver’s 180 degree turn in the intersection. The other driver had already allowed cars to enter the intersection, so there was a lack of coordination and expertise here.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The training for the COP program includes how to block streets.”

    Once again the Hasidm are ahead of the curve.

    This is what will be required for people to be able to afford Summer Streets and large group bike rides such as the Five Boro bike tour going forward. Police officers are too expensive. You need a few, but if you need them at every corner, the cost explodes.

    Should there be equal treatment. Absolutely. But don’t criticize. Emulate.

  • Cgold

    I rode in the tour de Queens this past summer and most of the traffic blocking was left to the organizers (who did it on bikes), with the NYPD blocking off the more heavily trafficked intersections. Granted that was during the daycand on a weekend, but the exact route was never published, even the day of. Sort of similar.

  • Jules1

    This seems worth a Freedom of Information request to Police Plaza.

  • Jules1

    Sort of similar, but did anyone tape over their license plates? Gives the whole thing a bad smell.

  • qrt145

    Does the NYPD actually have the [legal] power to “authorize” civilians to have lights and sirens? I have my doubts.

  • Michael

    See you in five years

  • Mathew Smithburger

    Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights! Even if those lights are on top of a Chevy Suburban that is used to create a giant traffic mess!

  • Walks Bikes Drives

    I will agree here. I don’t know what the deal is other than avoiding red light cameras which should not be an issue if it was sanctioned in the first place. If you get a ticket in the mail, a copy of the the parade permit should be enough to be done with that. I do not think they should be allowed to cover license plates for any reason.

  • neroden

    Anonymous to “preserve his relationship” with the NYPD? Sounds like dealing with the mafia.

    NYPD needs to be shut down completely. Liquidated. Every last person in it fired. Start a new police department which actually acts like a police department rather than like a local mafia.

  • neroden

    No. There is no circumstance under which anyone can legally cover the plates on a motor vehicle which is on a public road.

  • Kani Goldinson

    Shmira definitely did the right thing, and always has the right intentions. So thank you for what ever you guys do.