Guardian Angels Ruffle Feathers In Britain
LONDON (AP) _ Fledgling Guardian Angels have begun earning their wings under the guidance of founder Curtis Sliwa, whose crime-fighting group is catching as much criticism in Britain as on the other side of the Atlantic.
Sliwa and three fellow Angels, wearing their trademark red berets, told 22 recruits at a London gym on Wednesday to be careful out there.
″Flash and panache just won’t work, you gotta remain cool and calm,″ the New Yorker told the new recruits. ″You don’t have to be a muscle man to be an Angel.″
The group began in New York by patrolling the city’s subway system and branched out into 60 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Typically, local law enforcement officials resent the group’s presence.
London has been no different.
Critics of the group say they are opposed to the Guardian Angels’ plans to patrol the London Underground, the subway system plagued by a recent rise in crime.
″Such a move will undoubtedly increase the level of insecurity and tension on the underground and could lead to gang wars and more violent incidents,″ said John Prescott, in charge of transport for the opposition Labor Party.
The Angels, he said, could become sitting ducks. ″Hunting the red beret vigilantes could become a late night weekend sport.″
Romany Rix, a 16-year-old London recruit, said she believed in Sliwa’s philosophy.
″I’m no butch or bully but through the Angels I can help rid London of crime the gentle way,″ she said after Sliwa explained the three-month training course in law, fitness, self-defense and psychology.
Despite the criticism, Sliwa maintained the public supports the idea of Guardian Angels in Britain.
He and his wife and co-founder, Lisa Sliwa, toured London, Manchester and Birmingham for two weeks last fall to sound out their ideas.
″So many people tell us they will no longer use the tube (subway), they never see any security, they would welcome people in red berets,″ said Sliwa, who was questioned for seven hours by customs officials at Gatwick Airport on Tuesday before he and the other Angels were granted six-month visas.
A spokesman for the Home Office, which is responsible for law enforcement, said ″the implications of a uniformed squad acting outside the properly authorized police forces is offensive to many citizens and could in fact promote confrontation and disorder.
″So long as they keep within the law, however, there are no powers to prevent their traveling as normal fare-paying passengers on the tube,″ he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.