Guardian Angels begin Camden patrols

A group of Guardian Angels piques the curiosity of some pedestrians on Broadway in Camden. More than 40 members came from other cities, and the group is recruiting locally. Story, B4.
A group of Guardian Angels piques the curiosity of some pedestrians on Broadway in Camden. More than 40 members came from other cities, and the group is recruiting locally. Story, B4.
Posted: January 17, 2011

More than 40 Guardian Angels began patrols in Camden on Sunday morning, two days before the planned layoff of up to half of the city's police force.

Members of the volunteer anticrime group, who wear distinctive red berets, came from New York, Connecticut, Washington, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia, said Miguel Fuentes, the organization's national director, who was in Camden for the launch.

Members will walk the streets in groups daily between 11 a.m. and midnight, Fuentes said. During that time, they also will invite residents to join the organization.

"We'll have coordinators from Philadelphia getting involved here," said Fuentes, who had traveled from Chicago. Training lasts three months, he said.

Fuentes did not say how long the Angels planned to maintain their presence in Camden.

The Angels gathered at 11 a.m. at the Walter Rand Transportation Center, then fanned out. They will intervene if they see a physical dispute, or if they witness someone who appears to be committing a break-in or theft, Fuentes said.

Critics of the group, which began in the South Bronx in the 1970s, have accused its leaders of being publicity-seekers who do little to prevent crime, but Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson has said he welcomes the Angels.

John Williamson, president of the Camden Fraternal Order of Police lodge, also has said the group could be a positive presence. Police officers on patrol have been friendly, Fuentes said.

"They roll by honking or give us the thumbs-up," he said. "They know we're not trying to take their jobs."

The city has said it could cut about half of its 370-member force in the face of a $14.7 million budget shortfall. Up to a third of Fire Department personnel and more than 100 nonuniformed city employees also may be laid off.

A Camden police official who asked not to be identified said the department had not taken an official position on the Angels' presence in the city. Fuentes said that no police officials were on hand to welcome the Angels at the Transportation Center, where they were greeted by group's founder, Curtis Sliwa.

According to the group's organizers, the Guardian Angels have chapters in 140 cities and more than a dozen countries, but they have not previously been active in Camden. Since late last year, members have patrolled the Kensington section of Philadelphia, where police are searching for a serial killer who preys on women.

As of midday Sunday, the group had heard from six Camden residents who expressed interest in joining, Fuentes said.


Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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