Monday, April 19, 2004

City may get Guardian Angels

Group helps fight neighborhood crime without using weapons

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WESTWOOD - New York City's anticrime Guardian Angels could be patrolling here by summer.

Westwood Concern has located free housing and office space for the startup team. Now, all that's left is to collect furniture and to build support for the idea.

But the neighborhood group will forge ahead, with or without buy-in from City Hall, said Mary Kuhl, a Westwood Concern co-founder. The group gets no city funding, she said, and therefore does not need approval.

"We don't get our marching orders from City Hall," Kuhl said. "We'd like their support, but we don't have to have it."

The Angels, known by their red berets, began in 1979 when Curtis Sliwa, then a McDonald's night manager, got fed up with crime in the Bronx and expanded his neighborhood cleanups to the first group of 13 Angels. They patrolled the streets with martial arts training, but no weapons.

Since then, the Angels have grown to include chapters in 27 cities, including Denver, Chicago and Savannah, Ga. Their mission has evolved, too, to Junior Angels, an anticrime program for kids 7 to 11, and Cyber Angels, which promotes safe Internet surfing for children.

In Cincinnati, Kuhl said, the group of about five Angels will stay in Westwood three to four months - until they recruit local residents for a Cincinnati chapter. Westwood, the city's largest neighborhood, logged 2,078 reports of serious crime in 2003, more than any other neighborhood. Serious crime includes murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto theft. But the number of serious crimes reported to police was down by 12 percent when compared with 2002.

Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher said police and residents should support the local Citizens on Patrol program instead of looking to another group to help in crime fighting.

"I don't have any control over whether or not they do it," he said. "I'm not planning to pick a fight over it. My preference would be to go with the people who are homegrown and who live in this area."

Sliwa will return to Cincinnati in early May to meet with city officials, Kuhl said. He has said he wants the city to know the Angels aren't a "horde of barbarian thugs."

Westwood Concern will meet tonight to finalize plans for the group's arrival, expected to be in June.

The nonprofit Guardian Angels group is funded by donations and does not charge cities, but Kuhl said Westwood wants to do what it can to help offset the cost. "I am giddy like a schoolgirl about this," Kuhl said. "I think it's really going to make a difference."



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