For the last several weeks, residents in the Liberty and East Broadway area in East Toledo have been watched over by their very own Guardian Angels.
Make that The Alliance of Guardian Angels.
According to Terry Wertz, the leader of the local chapter, the group was invited by one of its members to start patrolling the streets on the east side.
“He asked us to help in this area,” Wertz, of South Toledo, said. “We have 20 members, most from the Old South End, and a couple members from East Toledo. We were asked to help patrol this area. We go where we are invited to go to help the community.”
The area, bounded by the Weiler Homes, a development of the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, is considered a “heavy” spot for the Angels.
“What we have seen on the east side, so far, revolves around drugs,” Wertz said. “On one patrol, we observed a group of kids peddling drugs, hiding them in sewer grates. One gentleman came up and out of the sewer, moving the grate to get out, when we went up to them. During our conversation, one guy about dropped his gun on the ground. It is not a good situation there right now.”
It is precisely that type of “situation” that made Wertz resurrect a local chapter of the Guardian Angels. Toledo once had a chapter in the 1980’s that disbanded when the leader moved from the area. The chapter headquarters is currently located on Madison Street, in downtown Toledo.
“I was tired of my neighborhood going bad,” Wertz explained. “I contacted Curtis Sliwa (founder and CEO of the Guardian Angels) and he put me in touch with the east coast director. All of our members ‘dare to care,’ which is our motto. We are not vigilantes. We are here to help empower people in the community to take back their neighborhoods.”
The Guardian Angels was founded in 1979 by Sliwa, then a night manager at a McDonald’s Restaurant in the south Bronx.
“At the time, the south Bronx was considered the worst, most crime ridden spot in the entire country,” Sliwa explained from his home in New York. “In terms of crime, drugs and violence, the Bronx was the worst. I felt that someone had to do something. I organized my closing crew at McDonald’s and we began patrolling the subways on February 8, 1979. Now we have 140 chapters in the United States and in 14 countries.”
Sliwa acknowledged that in the beginning, the people of New York did not fully understand who the Guardian Angels were.
“When I started in ‘79, people thought we were Charlie’s Angels, The Hells Angels, or just plain vigilantes,” Sliwa said. “The movie, ‘The Warriors,’ had just come out, so people really did not know what to think about us. Years later they got used to it and understood what we did.”
The Guardian Angels is a non-profit group of volunteers who donate their time to help protect communities around the world. The group also sends members into schools as well as civic and community organizations to give information on violence and crime prevention. The Guardian Angels has also developed a program to combat violence and crime on the Internet.
Members of the group are highly visible in their trademark red beret and jacket uniform. The Angels are all heavily trained in self defense, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid as well as state and local laws.
“We are very different from block watch groups,” Sliwa explained. “We are visible and have a calming effect on the community. Members of block watch are the eyes and ears of the neighborhood and we need them. Guardian Angels will physically intervene in a fight if we see one happening. We will also do a citizen’s arrest and detain a person until the police arrive if it is required. We spend a lot of time training our members on what they can and cannot do according to the local and state laws when it comes to physical intervention and citizen’s arrests. We teach them what lines we never want to see them cross.”
Sliwa, who was in town in April for the swearing in of new members, said Toledo is finally ready to accept the Guardian Angel’s assistance.
“It is definitely a more hospitable environment in Toledo,” Sliwa said. “Your new mayor, Mike Bell, and Police Chief Mike Navarre have given us a much warmer reception. Your old mayor (Carty Finkbeiner) really had some anger management issues and I am grateful he did not try to punch me in my old ‘snozzola.’ Because of fiscal cutbacks and budgets, the new mayor and police chief are supporters of the Angels. We are capable of expanding our efforts now.”
Sliwa said he has seen a change in Toledo’s south end since the group began patrolling the streets.
“I have seen a noticeable improvement on the south side of Toledo,” he said. “Before, the area was very thick with thugs. Now, they are no longer taking over whole corners.”
Sliwa added that Angel’s have also been used locally to escort and guard various people to court when they are eye witnesses to a crime.
“We have escorted families when they have been harassed and threatened,” he said. “We make a commitment to be there whenever possible. We won’t let people face retaliation and intimidation alone.”
The local chapter is actively looking for new members from all areas of Toledo, in order to increase patrols in the city, Wertz said.
“We have seen improvements in the south end but Rome was not built in a day,” Wertz said. “The trouble came in slowly and it is going to go out slowly. We need more people to help make our streets safer. Join if you have the heart to make a difference in your community.”
For more information on the Guardian Angels or to invite them to patrol your streets, contact Terry Wertz at (419) 213-0806.