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Guardian Angels Are No Panacea

Hartford Courant

July 26, 2009

If the Guardian Angels come to Hartford, don't expect miracles. The unarmed crime patrollers may help here and there, but they aren't likely to resolve the deadly gunplay that plagues the city.

The Guardian Angels was founded in 1979 as a nonprofit, on-the-street crime prevention group by New Yorker Curtis Sliwa. The group's volunteers, in red berets, walk the streets or ride transit and report crimes or suspicious activity by radio to police. Their website says they also provide education programs. Mr. Sliwa and some other members of the organization visited Hartford for the second time last week, met with some neighborhood and city leaders and said they would attempt to form a chapter here.

The group's main activity of walking the streets can help deter some kinds of crimes; it is part of the theory behind block watches and other such programs. It takes courage to do what they do.

On the other hand, Guardian Angels chapters have not seemed to take root in southern New England. A chapter began in Springfield a couple of years ago but has faded, police there say. The Angels appeared in New Haven last year when a spate of crime in the city's Edgewood Park neighborhood had the area's Hasidic Jewish community on edge. The effort began with a press conference featuring Mr. Sliwa, but has dwindled to increasingly sporadic appearances, officials say.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said, without marked enthusiasm, that the Angels were cooperative with police and "not a negative."

Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia was less supportive after a confrontation between the Angels and some youths in a city housing project last winter, saying the group had no role to play in his city. Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said police have to be cautious in how closely they work with the Angels, lest the city incur legal liability if an Angel makes a mistake.

If the Angels come to Hartford an effort to form a chapter in the 1980s failed God bless them, but the better long-term solution is a strong partnership between residents and police, as exists in many city neighborhoods; along with a strong effort to solve the employment, education and social ills that plague many urban areas.

Of particular concern in Hartford and New Haven is the number of shootings. Hartford has 19 homicides so far this year and is on track for one of its deadliest years since the gang troubles of the 1990s. The reasons for the shootings have to do with broken families, poverty, domestic violence, young men who are lightly parented, inmates leaving prison unprepared for a productive life, competition in the illegal drug trade and other things.

These are complex and serious problems in parts of the city. If they could have been solved by some guys in berets, they would have been.

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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