Thursday, March 25, 2004

Lack of faith in City Council leads to Angels

Peter Bronson

Five Guardian Angels visited Cincinnati on Wednesday. They dropped in at Westwood First Presbyterian Church - which sits at the end of Hope Street.

How ironic. That's where Westwood lives.

"It's not comfortable to drive through this neighborhood," said Teresa Fleming. She described how her son had been robbed at gunpoint and said, "I'm tired of the violence. This has got to stop."

The Guardian Angels offered to train local volunteers to patrol the streets. New York City was "slipping into the abyss'' of drug violence before the Angels helped clean it up, said president Curtis Sliwa.

"We counteract the thinking that to be bad is to be good. We are not a horde of barbarian thugs ready to lay siege to Cincinnati.''

Guardian Angel chapters in 27 cities, from Tokyo to Green Bay, Wis., fight the same crime that infests Westwood and other Cincinnati neighborhoods, he said. They send a few trainers for five months, and when they leave, Cincinnati could have its own "gang'' of Angels in red berets, trained in martial arts, who carry no weapons, just radios.

"Our mere presence frightens the (drug) customers away,'' Sliwa said. "But we're not just eyes and ears." They can also make citizen's arrests and detain suspects, he said.

Mary Kuhl of Westwood Concern invited the Guardian Angels. "With the escalating murder rates, I just thought maybe we needed another perspective on how to attack the crime problem,'' she said.

Westwood residents who have heard about it "think it's a great idea,'' she said.

One is Bob Myers, a member of Cincinnati's version of Guardian Angels, Citizens on Patrol. "I moved here five years ago, and the crime has at least doubled,'' he said. "There's a lot of drug crime. I've witnessed it on walks with Citizens on Patrol.''

Although Westwood residents have pleaded with City Council to support the police, "I have not seen any improvements,'' he said.

Councilmen Jim Tarbell, John Cranley and David Pepper attended the meeting, and they sounded interested. But Sliwa said city money is not needed.

Kuhl said council moral support is welcome, but that's all. "We can raise the money. We don't want government money and all the interference that comes with it.''

Besides, she said, council members might back down. "The rabble-rousers, screwballs and big-mouths in this town will go absolutely ballistic.''

She was talking about the gallery of race protesters at City Hall. But there's another group that may object - Cincinnati police.

Asking the Guardian Angels to patrol the streets is like telling the Marines they need help from the Boy Scouts. It implies they are not getting the job done.

A police spokesman said only, "We have nothing to do with that.'' Not a good start.

Only one of the 30 people at the meeting doubted the Angels. "We already have low morale on our police,'' said Michael Howard, director of Justice Watch. "We want the guy on the white horse to rescue us so much, we forget the spirit of rescue is within ourselves.''

Good point. But while Westwood was praying for Guardian Angels, City Council was pounding the cops again over Councilman Chris Smitherman's imaginary police overtime scandal.

Here's the real scandal: If council would work overtime on crime and back up the cops, Cincinnati wouldn't be going the wrong way on Hope Street.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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