Meet the New ‘Jewish Law’
The NYPD has recruited an unorthodox new officer – its first Hasidic cop.
Joel Witriol, a 24-year-old Talmud scholar from Brooklyn, starts his training at the department’s Police Academy today. “I realized there were so many things you could do [as a cop] – everything from community service to fighting narcotics,” Witriol said, coming off the heels of a stint with the department’s auxiliary police force. “There are a hundred things, and every day is different.”
Witriol has a degree from United Talmudical Seminary in Monroe, where he studied “religious stuff, mostly.”
He’s also held part-time jobs doing everything from driving a delivery truck to working for a furniture company.
But the Brooklyn native wanted something more – and believes he found it five years ago when, while volunteering for an ambulance company, he heard about the police auxiliary. “I decided to go and check it out,” Witriol said. “I went for training and passed.”
Growing up in Williamsburg, Witriol admitted that he had the same cops-and-robbers ideas about policing as many youngsters. “I thought it was only about arresting people,” he said.
But his auxiliary work in the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights – home to a large Hasidic community – was an eye-opener for him.
Auxiliary officers, who do not carry weapons, are “eyes and ears” for the department, Witriol said. “They do patrolling, they go to parades.
“I saw a lot of things that were going on in the precinct,” he said.
The police officers “are not only locking up people, but they are helping people, too. I figured it’s a good future.”
Before he signed on with the department, Witriol asked for some advice from his father, a bus driver.
He said, “If you do it, just do the right thing,” Witriol recalled.
Because of his religion, Witriol will need exemptions from police hairstyle rules so he can keep his beard and his peyoses, the long side locks worn by Hasidic men.
He’ll also have to be excused from working on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays.
Witriol said the Police Department doesn’t have any problem with his needs, so long as they’re backed up with a letter from a rabbi.
Department sources note that the NYPD has granted a number of religious exemptions to its rules in recent years.
When Witriol graduates from the academy, it is believed that he will be only the third Hasidic officer in the United States.
The other two officers include an Hasidic man hired a decade ago by the sheriff’s department in Rockland County.
And Witriol says his older brother was an officer in Newark before becoming one of that department’s chaplains.
Though his religion sets him apart, Witriol is eager to fit in with his fellow officers. “I want to be a cop,” he said, “together with everyone.”
He added that he knows that he can be “absolutely helpful with the community.”