These Angels should walk

There is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of many Canadians against the Guardian Angels because of their American roots and the current dissatisfaction with the warlike posturing of both North American presidents: Dubya and Steve.

Yet what the Guardian Angels do is akin to Neighbourhood Watch, which is totally non-controversial and not nearly as effective as the Angels have proven to be in many cities.

Police in Toronto should welcome the presence of trained observers putting eyes on the streets, as do police in a great number of American jurisdictions. Guardian Angels have a 27-year history in a number of cities and there is scarcely a bad word against them in all that time.

The simple concept is to train ordinary volunteers from the community to walk through trouble spots in groups as both a deterrent and as witnesses. The deterrent component doesn’t mean they act like police—they don’t—and police get valuable help when a group of trained witnesses gives them information to assist in obtaining convictions.

By definition they’re not vigilantes, who personally and illegally punish lawbreakers rather than relying on the legal authorities. Angels call police and report to police. Like any citizens, they can make arrests under certain circumstances.

Their deterrent effect is the same as having a crowd of witnesses standing by when a crime is being committed. The presence of brightly uniformed witnesses who have been trained in self defence and who cling together as a group is intimidating to a person committing a criminal act.

Like any good Samaritans, if they can lawfully and safely intervene to stop harm against a person, they do. That’s perfectly legal and in some jurisdictions it’s mandatory under law.

Certainly the presence of Guardian Angels is a welcome sight to any victim and it’s no doubt behind the strong support the Angels have received in some Downtown communities like the elderly, vulnerable and frightened residents of the William Denison apartments in the city’s tenderloin at Dundas and Sherbourne.

It was they who invited the Angels to conduct their “graduation” ceremony in the building operated by an unwise Toronto Community Housing Corp., which for no valid reason aside from real or perceived political pressure refused to permit its residents their rights to invite guests wearing red berets.

That pressure came from Coun. Pam McConnell in a move she says was inadvertent and only an act of courtesy to TCHC. She sent the city-owned but independent housing developer and operator a note regarding her unavailability to attend the Guardian Angels’ graduation at the Denison building.

She has said on a number of occasions that she doesn’t favour the Angels being invited to patrol in Toronto. (And the same with Mayor David Miller.) So TCHC called the cops who assisted the housing outfit in its wrongful ouster of the Angels.

Knowing of her NDP affiliation and her pro-union stance—along with Miller—McConnell might be suspected of making her position on that basis: solidarity forever. Let’s keep in mind that against all common sense and decency, Toronto police have a labour union that interferes with the operation of the department. It is one which should be outlawed by the provincial government, but that is an argument for another day.

This is a city where the police presence isn’t merely a thin blue line, it’s a dotted blue line. Toronto needs many more cops than are on the streets. Part of the problem is the waste of scarce police resources on stupid diversions. Cops are hired to stand around film sites when they should be on duty where needed—even with overtime.

Ontario makes it worse with a ridiculous law mandating that only a fully trained and armed police officer can hang around a construction site if there’s a road involved. As if security guards or lesser-trained bylaw officers couldn’t manage to guide traffic away from a hole in the road or help dump trucks in and out of a site. But still we’re short of police on the streets.

It does sound an alarm when politicians seemingly ignore the public good for their selfish ideological reasons.

We need eyes on the street, especially in areas plagued by crime. The Neighbourhood Watch concept is a good one, but it’s poorly organized and not working. The Guardian Angels concept is proven to work, expanding the efficiency of police departments.

Guardian Angels have, over the past 27 years, grown to about 50 cities in the U.S., including many major cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. They have 29 chapters in Japan plus chapters in Europe and South Africa. They are praised by police in the cities where they operate.

Highly visible patrols of Guardian Angels are equipped with communications equipment to call the police and effectively explain a situation. They are credible witnesses in court. They’re not cops and don’t pretend to be. They’re strictly monitored by their organizers to avoid any Angel overstepping the boundaries. They belong on our streets and should be welcomed by police, politicians and ordinary citizens, which, after all is who the Guardian Angels are.

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