Members of the New York City-based Guardian Angels organization are in Houston this morning, laying the groundwork for future citizen patrols on the city’s southwest side. The group says the patrols are about community empowerment, not vigilanteism.
The Guardian Angels were founded in New York City in the late 1970’s and use unarmed volunteers to patrol the streets, wearing the group’s trademark red berets and jackets in an effort to deter criminal actitivy. The organization now plans patrols in the area around Sharpstown, where there’s been a significant increase in crime. Arnoldo Salinas is the Guardian Angels senior director.
“Guardian Angels are not judge, jury and executioners. We have been around for 27 years, we have 117 chapters around the world. We have never been sued, we have never falsely arrested anyone, we have never hurt anyone on any kind of patrol. Six of us have been killed in the line of duty. We are not vigilantes, we are vigilant. We galvanize the community to stand-up for itself.”
Salinas and members of the Dallas chapter of the Guardian Angels say they’ll try to meet with local community leaders, including the police chief and mayor, and will begin a recruiting effort to add local volunteers to help patrol the streets.
“This is not a New York City effort or Los Angeles or Chicago Guardian Angels coming here and commandeering the southwest section of Houston. These are good people from the southwest section which are going to join the efforts of the Guardian Angels to make for a better community.”
The Guardian Angels were invited to Houston by Sharpstown resident Jeff Schmidt, who’s concerned about an increase in violent crime and break-ins in his neighborhood, just a block off of Beechnut near the Southwest Freeway.
“Why wouldn’t it be a good decision? I think that the city of Houston, particularly the southwest sector, needs all the help it can get. Our police officers are doing all they can do. They’re probably overworked. We don’t have enough police on the streets and this would only add to their assistance in trying to fight crime.”
Mike Laster is the president of the Sharpstown Civic Association and says if the Guardian Angels can help fight crime and work well with other law enforcement organizations, they’re welcome in Houston.
“It appears as though what will be required of them is to convince any number of volunteers from the community to give of themselves in a way over and above what they’re already giving to protect their neighborhood. So, if they can do that and build a base of operations that is responsive not only to the county, but also the city and the police department and all of the governmental agencies and they feel comfortable about it, more power to them.”
A spokesman with Houston Police Department says the Guardian Angels are welcome if they remain simply the eyes and ears of law enforcement and don’t get involved in trying to apprehend criminal suspects. You can find out more about the Guardian Angels on our website, KUHF.org.