a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Divine intervention with a punch

CHARLEROI, Pa. – The New York-based Guardian Angels is looking for brave men to conduct foot patrols in drug-infested neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and even in the tiny borough of Charleroi.
Members of the nonprofit crime fighters are touring such neighborhoods as Pittsburgh’s Hill District and McKees Rocks soliciting members to help police rid the communities of crime.
“Rather than think of us as Hells Angels or vigilantes … we’re the biggest (police) cooperators, the biggest rats out there,” said the group’s founder, Curtis Sliwa, while speaking to a crowd of nearly 70 people at a town meeting Friday in Charleroi.
Sliwa founded the group in 1979 to attack crime and violence in New York’s subways. It has since grown to include chapters in 11 countries and 86 cities. A new chapter was being trained Friday in Mexico City.
But the visit to Charleroi, at the invitation of Mayor Frank Paterra, had caused a rift between council and the mayor over concerns that advertising a drug problem might hurt local businesses.
“We have a crime problem like everyone else,” said Paterra, whose borough is home to just 4,800 residents.
After Sliwa finished speaking, one middle-aged man stood up and announced that he would “be the first to volunteer.” Retired Charleroi police Chief Armand Costantino, meanwhile, announced his support of the Guardian Angels. Donn Henderson, a supervisor in neighboring Fallowfield Township, said he wondered how a local chapter might be formed.
Sliwa said he would need a professional who is trained in self-defense to head up a local chapter. If local police cooperate, they would perform background checks on applicants before new members undergo three months of training.
The volunteers would then dedicate 8 hours of their time a week to patrol in groups of four outside crack houses or bars where fights often break out. The angels carry no guns, he said, but get physical when necessary, Sliwa said.
“This is all on the cuff for free,” he said.

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