The Guardian Angels is a non-profit international volunteer organization of unarmed crime-prevention. The Guardian Angels organization was founded February 13, 1979, in New York City by Curtis Sliwa. It later spread to over 130 cities and 13 countries worldwide. They do not solicit money on the subway; in their heyday in the 1980s impersonators sometimes posed as members and solicited money from unwary passengers.
Sliwa originally created the organization to combat widespread violence and crime on the New York City Subway system. The organization originally trained members to make citizen’s arrests for violent crimes. The organization patrols the streets and neighborhoods but also provides education programs and workshops for schools and businesses.
In the beginning, New York City Mayor Ed Koch publicly opposed the group. Over the years, the controversy has died down and as citizen involvement and outreach has increased, there has been less public opposition to the group by administration officials. Ed Koch later reversed his stance on the organization, and former New York City Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have publicly supported the group.
Rules and activitiesEdit
The Guardian Angels do not demand, or ask for, money on the subway. In the 1980s when they were often seen on the subways, there was a problem with imitators who would dress in clothing similar to their characteristic dress (including red berets), impersonate them, and solicit money.
The original and main Guardian Angels activity is "safety patrol" in which members walk the streets or ride transit. Guardian Angels must be in uniform to represent the organization. They can be identified by their red berets and red jackets or white T-shirts with the red Guardian Angels logo of an eye inside a pyramid on a winged shield.
Chapters operate similar to franchise networks supporting one another regionally under standard rules, regulations, and training. The Guardian Angels states that it is an equal opportunity organization that encourages diversity.
The organization accepts volunteers who do not have a recent or serious criminal record and are not members of a gang or racial-hate group. In order to join the safety patrol program, members must be at least 16 years old; youth programs for younger applicants are offered. Safety Patrol members are prohibited from carrying weapons and are physically searched by each other before patrolling. They are trained in first aid and CPR, law, conflict resolution, communication, and basic martial arts. Members are paired up and follow the directions of a Patrol Leader. If their own or other citizens' lives or health are endangered, they are allowed to do whatever is lawful and necessary.
The Guardian Angels have also begun to include youth programs, teacher programs, disaster response, an Internet safety program called the CyberAngels, and self-defense courses, as well as community outreach addressing issues beyond crime.
CyberAngels was founded in 1995 by Gabriel Hatcher as an online "neighborhood watch." Originally the group monitored chat rooms directly with the intent of apprehending sexual predators. Later the group took what it had learned and changed its focus to educating police, schools, and families about online abuse and cyber crime. In 1998, CyberAngels received a Presidential Service Award. MacSupport.com founder Tony Ricciardi was an early member of the group.
In 2009, at the Angels' 30th-anniversary celebration held in New York City, and then again in 2010 at the World Conference held in San Francisco, founder Curtis Sliwa announced the plan to develop Internet-based training for the organization.
The goal of the training includes an effort towards reducing the liability potential for members and for the organization during their physical interventions of crime deterrence.
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Outside of New York City, the Guardian Angels first established chapters in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, London, Toronto, Dallas, Tokyo, Houston, Cape Town, Auckland, Savannah, Seattle, and York. Subsequently, the organization established chapters in smaller cities, such as the cities of Springfield and Brockton, Massachusetts; Sacramento and Stockton, California; and Portland, Maine. In May 2011, a chapter was organized in Indianapolis. The Los Angeles, York, Pennsylvania and Sacramento Chapters worked with official law enforcement officers and agencies.
Los Angeles ChapterEdit
The organization's first West Coast chapter was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles, California. It grew quickly, reaching its peak in membership in the mid-1980s with six sub-chapters and over 250 members. However, membership dropped in the 1990s and by 2000 there was only one Venice Beach sub-chapter remaining in the city.
There were a few attempts to restart the Los Angeles Chapter in 2003 and 2004 with eventual success in 2006. Alex Makarczyk, who previously served in the Los Angeles chapter in the mid-1980s, worked to restore the chapter after James Richards, a fellow Guardian Angel was shot to death outside his home on October 18, 2000. He was not on patrol when he was gunned down in the early morning hours, but he was assisting local law enforcement with information about drug-related crime in his neighborhood.
The Sacramento chapter of the Guardian Angels was the third chapter formed in California, following the Los Angeles and San Francisco chapters. At its height, this chapter consisted of over 50 people ranging in age from 16 to 50 years old. There, the police worked closely with the local chapter and supplied a phone number and a liaison officer for them to use within their People Oriented Police (P.O.P.) division. The chapter headquarters was a rent-free half of a commercial medical duplex for several years. The Sacramento Chapter also featured a bike patrol to help provide additional eyes and ears along the American River Parkway. Using CB radios, patrols could call back to the headquarters and have the freedom not to depend upon public pay telephones to call the Sacramento Police.
Patrols ranged from 20 to as few as two Angels, though a minimum of three people was the standard. Members were assigned positions and specific locations in a patrol: the Patrol Leader was at the front; Communications was beside or behind; and Runners came next and would usually be the majority of the patrol, along with the second, who was in charge of keeping the patrol organized at the rear. Angels unable to go on patrols typically monitored the CB radio at the headquarters. Thus, a chapter could enlist volunteers who were legally considered handicapped. When a situation required immediate physical action on a patrol, the Patrol Leader would send the Runners under the direction of the second and either send the Communications person (with another Angel) to find a phone and call police, or to radio the situation to Chapter Headquarters to call a P.O.P. officer. When on bicycles, the second and a Runner would leave bikes with the Patrol Leader. Long-distance communications between the parts of a patrol were achieved by specific patterns of blown whistles, which every member was required to have along with a working pen, pad of paper, and flashlight.
The Sacramento chapter went freely throughout the entire city and surrounding areas, ranging from North Highlands to the then (1980s) gang-infested Oak Park neighborhood, then further south into the Meadowview and Pocket Areas. Walking sometimes 10 miles during the course of a four-hour patrol, Angels even crossed the Sacramento River into neighboring Yolo County to patrol what were then the communities of Bend and Brite, now incorporated into West Sacramento. The Oak Park patrols went through what was Crips territory, a gang originating in Los Angeles. The Crips were identified by blue rags hanging from their pockets; their rival gang, the Bloods, did the same thing but used red rags. Since the uniform of the Guardian Angels is a red and white T-shirt, the Crips at the time considered them enemies while the Bloods saw them as weak fakes of their own gang.
On occasion, the Sacramento chapter patrols used cars to reach areas that were too far to walk, and several times the Sacramento Chapter was called into service in other cities, helping launch the chapter in Stockton CA. Both helped with special events in San Francisco, such as the Halloween-time Erotic Exotic Ball. They traveled as far away as Los Angeles, where with the local chapter they officially assisted the police with crowd control during the Rose Parade.
The Guardian Angels were mostly greeted favorably in the city, and sought out by the media to comment on crime and local issues. Press conferences were held during the tense time before Eric Royce Leonard, dubbed the "Thrill Killer", was arrested in 1991; and during the controversial Sacramento debut of Colors about the Bloods and Crips. Because of the stance of the Guardian Angels in response to Leonard's murders of three Round Table Pizza employees, the Old Sacramento restaurant offered free dinner for one patrol every Saturday and Sunday night.
The Tampa Bay region of Florida has always been an active area within the group's history. There have been two chapters serving the Tampa Bay area since the group was founded. The first Tampa chapter was established in 1984 and lasted until 1992. A second chapter was established in 1999. In 2017, when the Seminole Heights Killer was active, the Tampa Bay chapter patrolled the streets of the Seminole Heights neighborhood to help relieve public fear.
The Guardian Angels have been active in Orlando, Florida, due to the increase in murder and crime rates. A group in Boston was also formed in 2007; at first, Mayor Tom Menino opposed them, but when the public welcomed the group, he eventually supported it. Residents of nearby Brockton, Massachusetts launched a chapter in March 2008 in response to a rise in street violence, and they were quickly able to build a working relationship with the city's police chief.
In 2007, they started recruiting in Kansas City, Missouri, and a chapter was started with five Guardian Angels in October 2008. In 2010, they started recruiting in Portland, Oregon. After being told by the National Training Director that they had to make 3 arrests per month, the chapter asked about this new directive and at that time was told they never even had a chapter, despite reports to the contrary; the Kansas City chapter soon disbanded and now patrol their city on their own from vehicles seeking persons of interest and criminal activity.
A chapter was formed in Fresno, California in 1984 by Peggi LaJune.
Constant fears about street crime led one US Congressman to invite the Guardian Angels to open a chapter in Cleveland. They made two arrests and helped police to apprehend 13 people. They disbanded in 1983 but a new chapter was formed in 1993 and is still active today.
A chapter was formed in Bucyrus, Ohio, in 2012. By 2017 A successful partnership between the Guardian Angels and Law Enforcement saw the cities crime rate down by 50%. A community once overtaken by crime and drugs now empowered and thriving.
Outside the United StatesEdit
A local organization of the Guardian Angels was formed in Japan in 1996. The Guardian Angels Japan has chapters in most of the major cities and is second only to America in membership and activities. Keiji Oda, the founder and president of the Guardian Angels Japan, joined the Boston and New York City chapters in the 1980s. The Guardian Angels concept faced opposition in Japan, but Oda succeeded in convincing Japanese officials that the organization would be run by Japanese members for the Japanese people, and the principles of the organization were not just American but universal. Official acceptance culminated with a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005. The Guardian Angels were the first community organization in Japan to be awarded non-profit status.
In London, the Guardian Angels are an independent, non-profit, non-political voluntary organisation whose main purpose is to tackle violent crime, act as positive role models for young people, and serve communities in the UK, since its formation on 14th May 1989. By 2007 their main numbers had dwindled to almost non-existent due to politics and public opinion but have of recent times started to increase in numbers and visibility across the nation. In the United Kingdom, the law requires that people use only "reasonable force" as appropriate to the situation, which leads Guardian Angel training to focus on using the minimum possible force, and to only use force to prevent a dangerous situation from escalating. All violent crimes are reported to the police, and intervention leading to citizens' arrests (legal in Britain) or use of force is only employed in extreme cases. Guardian Angels in the UK are unarmed but all fully trained in self defense, first aid and law for personal and community protection.
The Manchester Chapter was established around 1991 and ceased operating in 1996. The Chapter was run by Ian 'Mach One' McMahon and then Steve 'Shuriken' Smith who dealt with the closure of the chapter and its final patrols.
The London Chapter seemed dormant for several years until recently when spotted patrolling the streets under newly elected leadership Marcus "Scooter" Suitor in Southend on Sea, Pitsea, all of the Greater London Areas, participating in Anti Knife Campaigns, Youth Gang Awareness talks, Weapon Sweeps on crime riddled Estate Housing blocks alongside local authorities, attending main events in the West End City & Soho area, helping communities set up more effective neighbourhood watch groups, frequently riding on public transport, buses, trains and Underground (Tube) to act as a visual deterrent for any would-be criminal. All Guardian Angel activities in the UK are self funded and paid for by individual members.
The Guardian Angels South African Chapter was started by Carl Viljoen in 2004 in Cape Town. Other chapters are in Kuilsriver, Cape Town, Western Cape and Potchefstroom, North West Province.
A Toronto, Ontario, chapter was originally formed in 1982 and ran until 1984. A smaller chapter ran briefly in the Parkdale area of Toronto in 1992–1993 but disbanded. The 2005 Boxing Day shooting resulted in the death of teenager Jane Creba on a busy downtown street, and provoked renewed attention to law-and-order issues in Canada, and Curtis Sliwa stated that he had been contacted by many Torontonians interested in having a local chapter. On July 13, 2006, a new chapter of the Guardian Angels Canada formed in Toronto. However, both mayor David Miller and police chief Bill Blair stated they were not interested in trying what had not worked twice before. When Sliwa arrived with three other Angels, Miller declined to meet with them, stating that police work was best left to the police. Despite the opposition of the Mayor, community groups, and the police chief, the Toronto Chapter moved ahead. 2006 mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield expressed her support for the Guardian Angels as did former television anchor Peter Kent and former professional boxer (and now radio talk show host) Spider Jones. Toronto's first group of Guardian Angels hit the streets Thursday, July 13 for their inaugural patrol in the city's downtown core. The group's official launch in Toronto came just two days after members were forced to move their graduation ceremony from a seniors residence on Dundas Street.
A Vancouver chapter was in operation as of November 2006. There was a chapter there in the early 1980s. Some of the alumni from that group are assisting with the new chapter.
An attempt to organize a chapter in Ottawa failed after the police and city refused to cooperate plus a negative reaction and lack of interest from the majority of its population.
In January 2006, the Guardian Angels opened its New Zealand Headquarters in Henderson, a suburb of Waitakere City west of Auckland, New Zealand's fifth-largest and largest cities respectively (to be amalgamated with others into a "super-city" in 2010). The NZ National Director was Andy "Chieftain" Cawston.
New Zealand's inaugural Guardian Angels Patrol was held on January 13, 2006. The Guardian Angels were active in South Auckland for a short while.
Members of the Wellington Chapter held their inaugural training and orientation Patrol on October 6, 2006 in the Auckland CBD.
Within New Zealand, The International Alliance of Guardian Angels was recognized and registered as a Charitable Trust for tax purposes. Their headquarters were in the Waitakere Community Center, Ratanui Street, Henderson. In 2016 the New Zealand chapters disbanded.
Cybertanod, Role Model Cop, and the Barangay PeaceKeeping Action Team (BPAT) program of The Philippine National Police are some of the contributions of The Guardian Angels Philippines Chapter in Police organization. Joint police programs of the Guardian Angels resulted in national awards for officers and local police stations where the Guardian Angels works. The chapter covered Southern Mindanao and recently expanded into Northern Luzon. Today, the Philippines Chapter aims to spread the program in the South East Asia region and is currently developing an independent Citizen Police Organization concept for the region. The local chapter presently gathers support to host the 1st Joint Police and Guardian Angels Annual International Citizen Safety Patrol as its beyond border initiatives on Guardian Angels violence prevention — Global Public Safety awareness campaign. The effort in South East Asia is under the watch of Mike Zarate as National Director for Philippines.
A Guardian Angels chapter actively patrolled in Sydney in the early nineties, but disbanded after a short time.
A chapter was formed in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, in 2008, but has yet to begin patrolling. Some school and internet-safety programs have been conducted.
In 2017 a branch formed in the city of Logan in Queensland. They started patrolling local parks but have since been patrolling the streets and other public places. In 2019 Guardian Angels began patrols in Melbourne and are currently establishing a chapter in that city.
Seven chapters are currently present in Italy, from east to west and north to south: Milan, Brescia, Padua, Bologna, Sassari, Olbia and Cagliari. Operations will be starting soon in Udine and Avezzano. The Italian Guardian Angels share the common trait of the organization in serving their communities, but a great deal of their work is focused on helping the homeless and needy elderly, in providing first aid to people in distress. Future developments involve youth programmes.
In popular cultureEdit
"Footsteps", a short comics story written by British writer Alan Moore and drawn by Joe Orlando for Secret Origins #10, uses a schism in the Guardian Angels (identified in the story as "Subway Angels") as a modern-day metaphor for the War in Heaven. One of the story's protagonists is a young Angel reluctant to side with either the Angels' leadership or the subway "survivalists" looking to subvert the leadership, and is as a result spurned and beaten by both groups. He is subsequently comforted by the Phantom Stranger, whom Moore identifies as a literal angel that neglected to take sides during the "real" War in Heaven.
In season 3 of 21 Jump Street, a group of young vigilantes called the "Street Rangers", try to clean the streets of crime in a tough neighborhood. In that episode, their goal is to bring down an untouchable drug dealer, without knowing about the young undercover cops trying to convict him first. The logo on the uniforms that the Rangers wear is inspired by the Guardian Angels' – instead of wearing red, they wear black.
Professional wrestler Ray Traylor wrestled under the moniker "The Guardian Angel" in WCW from 1993 to 1995 after his character "The Boss" was deemed too similar to his WWF character "The Big Bossman", whom Traylor also portrayed. Traylor wore the trademark red jacket and beret of the organization, as well as their T-shirts when competing. Traylor, a former corrections officer, actually went through Guardian Angel training and was inducted into the Angels as part of the gimmick.
The Guardian Angels are featured in a FirstRun.tv Network reality TV series called Angels in Action. In the first episode, Curtis Sliwa opens the series, and it follows the Philadelphia Guardian Angels spread information about a neighborhood rapist and make a drug bust. Later on, it follows the Guardian Angels in Atlantic City as they investigate a massage parlor they believe is a front for illegal prostitution, and actually find a way to get inside.
A trio of Guardian Angels were background characters in a Marvel Comics "Punisher" story. They were introduced in one panel, before the villain of the sequence (HELP!) murdered them in cold blood, on the subway.
"The Guardian Angel Is Watching Over Us", a tribute to the Guardian Angels, is a soul-funk-disco song recorded in New York City in 1979 by the Golden Flamingo Orchestra featuring Margo Williams.
In an episode of Grounded For Life, Eddie tries to defend himself as having been a Guardian Angel, but it's soon revealed that he had simply stolen a red beret in an attempt to impress women.
In the season 3 episode 14 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, "Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City", Mac and Dee become vigilantes to fight against the homeless who masturbate in the streets, adopting a uniform with a red beret inspired by the Guardian Angels.
In season 2, episode 10 of In Living Color, Jim Carrey plays a pathetic character who calls himself a Cherub of Justice, a reference to the Guardian Angels.
In season 7, episode 13 of The Office, Dwight runs an organization called "Knights of the Night" which is essentially the same thing as the Guardian Angels (Dwight initially describes it as "nothing like the Guardian Angels," except, when he elaborates, says, "in broad strokes, think the Guardian Angels").
In an episode of the 1982–1983 game show Child's Play, a boy given the task of describing the term "Guardian angel" actually described members of this organization.
Featured in Season 12, Episode 13 of Mysteries at the Museum, "When Twain Met Sawyer and More" which first aired November 3, 2016.
In the 2008 film Midnight Meat Train, there is a scene where Mahogany the serial killer(played by Vinnie Jones) tries to kill a Guardian Angel alike (played by Quinton Jackson) who wore a green beret and a green uniform instead of red.
Dom Joly has also portrayed a Guardian Angel for comedic purposes on British public transport in at least one episode of Trigger Happy TV.
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