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Guardian Angels Begin Patrolling Garden Street In Hartford

ERIC GERSHON

July 20, 2009

HARTFORD - This was not a conventional sightseeing tour: No pretty buildings, historic landmarks or scenic vistas. Curtis Sliwa visited the North End Sunday for crime scenes, and that's what the Revs. Henry Brown and Patrice Smith showed him.

1 Garden St. 381 Garden St. 389 Garden St. 397 Garden St. 713 Garden St. In the last year, shootings at them all.

"Every death, every shooting, I'm on the scene," Brown told Sliwa , founder of the Guardian Angels, before leading 10 visiting Angels down and around Garden Street.

The Angels, an international crime prevention group Sliwa founded in 1979, conduct volunteer street patrols in 86 U.S. cities, including New Haven. Sliwa said Hartford would join the list this week, when "out of town" Angels would begin patrolling here "at least once a week." Sliwa did not say what days or how many Angels would patrol the street.

A sustained "stream" of e-mails and phone calls from Hartford citizens lately convinced him to make Connecticut's capital city a priority, he said.

There have been 18 homicides in Hartford this year, three more than at this point last year, with the most recent on July 1.

Angels from the New Haven and New York chapters red berets and all came Sunday, in part to survey the North End, but mainly to advertise their services and meet locals who would form the Hartford chapter's core.

As always, the Angels, who carry walkie-talkies but no weapons, encountered hecklers as well as well-wishers.

"That's for show," said one bystander, a young man with a mouthful of gold-capped teeth and dressed in a matching yellow shirt that read "Born Killers." "They can't stop nothing. We're out there every day. When they leave, there's gonna be a shooting." The man would not give his name.

But Tyrone Moulton, a self-employed mason and resident of Garden Street, approached Sliwa as the Angels marched by and made off with a handful of fliers, which the Angles were taping to telephone poles.

"50 years old, I've seen it go from beauty to hell," he said of the neighborhood.

Moulton thinks the Angels have an advantage over the police in solving crimes, because they're known primarily for observing rather than making arrests, which he said engenders the trust of locals.

"The police, they do it wrong," Moulton said. "They don't want to get involved in the neighborhood. They just want to come and show their aggressiveness. They just want to arrest people."

Sliwa, who lives in New York and hosts a talk show on WABC five days a week, said the harsher his reception in an area, the more he believes he's in the right place.

"I always feel like, if I don't get a 12-gun salute, that they're not top-shelf thugs," he said.

Several bystanders Sunday criticized the Angels for visiting on a calm and pleasant Sunday afternoon rather than after midnight Friday or Saturday, more violent times.

"Rocky," a 50-year-old Angel from Waterbury who is helping to organize the Hartford chapter, said the midday weekend visit serves its own purpose.

"The people that want to be friends with the Guardian Angels are out on Sunday afternoons," he said.

A full-time cabinet maker and 29-year veteran of the Angels, Rocky asked that his last-name be kept private for safety's sake.

Sliwa said he would contact Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts this week to solicit their support.

The Guardian Angels tried to start a chapter in Hartford in the mid-1980s, but the effort failed.

Whether the Angels are able to sustain a Hartford presence this time will depend on support from people like Brown and Smith, vocal advocates for Hartford crime victims, Sliwa said.

"We're here," he said. "But we're here to teach people to do this."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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