Angels back in Mass.

by Beacon Staff • April 11, 2007

The Alliance of Guardian Angels, a volunteer community policing group formed in New York City in 1979, has returned to Boston after a 15-year hiatus.

The group hopes to help reduce crime in Boston, which has seen 16 murders this year, compared with 10 at the same point in 2005.,The Alliance of Guardian Angels, a volunteer community policing group formed in New York City in 1979, has returned to Boston after a 15-year hiatus.

The group hopes to help reduce crime in Boston, which has seen 16 murders this year, compared with 10 at the same point in 2005.

Angel agents are patrolling only in Dorchester neighborhoods and on the Orange Line of the T, though founder Curtis Sliwa said the Angels have been invited to other areas such as Roxbury, Mattapan and Jamaica Plain by residents in the neighborhoods.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis originally shunned the Angels' proposal to come to Boston, saying residents here should be the ones protecting their community. Sliwa said he did not know why the Boston Police Department (BPD) would turn down the Angels' offer, citing the working relationship the Angels have with other police departments around the country.

"They do a disservice to the community because by dismissing the Guardian Angels, hey aren't providing something to replace it," Sliwa said. "They really need to get up to speed with how they work with us."

Davis has since altered his stance on the Angels' presence, and has said they should consult BPD captains to see how they can help.

"I applaud volunteerism and engaged citizens who seek to assist the Boston Police in our efforts to keep our city safe," Davis said in a press release.

The BPD declined to comment further on the issue, saying the department had been too inundated with requests for information regarding the Angels to field any more inquiries.

Sliwa formed the Guardian Angels as a way to supplement a police force he thought couldn't handle the crime in New York City at the time, and it wasn't long before chapters sprang up around the country to help drive down crime in other major cities. A Boston chapter of the Angels existed from 1981 to 1992, though the chapter disbanded as crime rates dropped and older members moved on to settle down with families.

Many have credited the Angels with accomplishing their goal of driving down crime in major cities around the country. Their services have been recognized with awards from many government officials, including the President's Volunteer Action Award in 1983 from former President Ronald Reagan.

It is unclear how much of an effect, if any, the Angels will have on reducing crime this time around. Though volunteers must go through a three-month period of legal and physical training led by current members, the Angels wield no firearms or special privileges.

Second-year communication management graduate student and Dorchester resident Amanda Collins said she was unsure if the Angels could actually reduce crime in the neighborhood.

"As much as I'd like to think that ordinary citizens can make a difference in these kinds of circumstances, I can't really be sure," she said in an e-mail. "The violence and utter disregard for law and authority we have seen so far makes me think that the kids and people committing these crimes and acting out are not likely to stop because some group with no authority is out walking the streets."

The first group of Angels, who began patrols two weeks ago, came from chapters already established in New York City and Washington, D.C. According to Sliwa, members will try to recruit locals to join the Angels and form a new Boston chapter before returning to their respective cities. He also hopes to recruit youths in the neighborhoods by providing them a positive alternative to a gang.

The decision by the Angels to return to Boston has come at a time when the BPD is also hoping to attract local recruits from different neighborhoods who could be sent out to patrol the streets as part of a community policing strategy.

The BPD launched a major marketing campaign in February aimed at attracting more applicants for the next civil service exam, the test taken to get on the force, to be next held May 19.

While community policing is the same strategy the Angels implement, Sliwa said it can only go so far, and even he would rather have an officer patrolling the streets.

"You always prefer a trained police officer, but they're having a heck of a time recruiting people right now," Sliwa said.

Collins also said she would prefer more police to the Angels, so long as they can operate effectively to reduce crime.

"I think having cops out all the time is a must for all the neighborhoods, and it has to be a continued presence," she said. "Not just a few months of walking the beats and then trying something new."