Red berets, handcuffs and a determination to take back a neighborhood are common denominators among Guardian Angels, who search criminal descriptions daily to see if they match anyone they see on their patrol routes, approach drug dealers on public street corners and even throw their bodies in the middle of crimes in progress to make citizen arrests. Needless to say, it's not your average neighborhood watch group, but you may see its members in action soon.
The national organization has for the past 28 years trained citizens to use every power they have under the law -- including self-defense and citizen arrests -- but without carrying any weapons. It recently opened a local chapter in New Orleans and formally introduced itself to the neighbors during a meeting last week at Marigny Perk Coffee Shop.
Angels Western Regional Director Robert McClintick says the group was invited to the city by the Marigny Neighborhood Association. "As soon as our boots hit the ground, we felt like we were being effective," he says. After members from various other chapters patrolled the streets during Mardi Gras, McClintick decided the local chapter he is currently recruiting will focus on the French Quarter, Marigny, Bywater and Ninth Ward.
McClintick expects to have the local chapter in place within the next three to five months, but each new member first must go through 80 to 90 hours of training and build a healthy knowledge of the Angels' 800-page manual. The group's approach is far different from the traditional neighborhood watch.
"Unlike a neighborhood watch group that will hang back and just call (authorities for help), if I see someone being attacked I'm physically going to stop that attack, and my guys that are with me that are trained are going to stop that attack," he says. "If that means the bad guy kisses the pavement before he goes to jail, then that's what happens."
Aside from regional directors, the Guardian Angels is a volunteer organization that emphasizes the power of numbers and the need to tailor each chapter to neighborhood concerns. Its military-style approach to patrolling has expanded to an overarching social organization since it was founded by Curtis Sliwa, a fed-up night manager at a McDonald's in the Bronx, New York, almost three decades ago.
McClintick started his 19-year stint with the Guardian Angels on the mean streets of Los Angeles during the early 1990s. "We were shot at every day," he says. "In fact, if we didn't get shot at, we thought we were doing something wrong." During that time, McClintick was shot three separate times -- in the stomach, back of the head, and the chest -- but dismisses the shooters as "idiots with guns during a much more violent time." He also reveals the compassion that lies behind the tough approach of the Guardian Angels: "The amount of lives I've been able to affect up to that point would have been wasted if I didn't get back out there and protect more lives."
McClintick told the neighborhood meeting, "The Guardian Angels are for people who are tired and fed up. We are here to help." One resident told of a recent attack on his wife by a group of robbers who seemed more interested in beating her than taking her purse. McClintick said his group was aware of a series of similar attacks in the neighborhood and, based on information from the police, the Angels' daily patrols were on the lookout for two black males driving a white Honda Civic with temporary plates. It was the kind of feedback Marigny residents had hoped for.
"Most people feel very comfortable knowing that somebody is keeping an eye on things," says Marigny Perk coffee shop owner Bob Patience, a neighborhood resident. "The Marigny and the Bywater are good areas for this kind of thing because they lend themselves to foot patrols -- very densely populated, houses right on the street, lot of streetlights, people out walking dogs and babies, on bikes and on their porches. So this is an ideal environment for what the Guardian Angels are doing, and I'm very glad they're here."
While the group will be a helpful tool for the New Orleans Police Department, McClintick says his main focus is on the community. "We will be the eyes and the ears for the police. We will be extremely good witnesses, but I'm here for the community," he says, adding that several NOPD officers had voiced support for the group's arrival.
Scott Bean, who lives just blocks from the meeting site, says he also is happy to see the Guardian Angels in the Marigny. "I used to walk everywhere and sit on my stoop, but not recently." He plans to help raise funds for the group and expects to be back on his stoop soon. "We're going to take the neighborhood back," he says.