By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
The Alliance of Guardian Angels is creating a presence in the city and looking for a few good volunteers to help make that happen.
Luis Gonzalez, regional director and Cleveland chapter leader, met with police and several members of city council during a press conference Friday and said the organization will be walking the streets here and looking for others to join their efforts.
The Guardian Angels organization, with members easily recognized in the red beret, red jackets and boots, operate 142 chapters in 15 countries. They are looking to start a chapter in the Youngstown area, fueled in part by the deadly shooting Feb. 6 just off the campus of Youngstown State University.
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes said the police department has not entered into any kind of agreement with the organization, but he cannot stop them from taking to the streets and walking the neighborhoods.
He said the department is still working out particulars involved with the Angels’ presence in the city such as liability and training.
Still, Hughes said he supports the organization’s efforts.
“There is something to be said about what they do,” said Hughes. “I am supporting their early efforts and what the Guardian Angels stand for.”
Gonzalez said the organization does have five people from the Youngstown area interested in joining, and they are looking for more. He said those interested need to pass a background check and complete a three-month training course before they would be permitted to walk the streets on patrol with other Angels.
Gonzalez said potential Angels must undergo intensive martial arts and conflict-resolution training, learn how to reach at-risk and problem citizens, and learn laws concerning crime reporting and how to properly detain an individual for police.
“We try to make sure our group is mentally right before they go out there,” he added.
The Guardian Angels, Gonzalez said, walk the streets on patrol in groups of no fewer than five people. The members are all volunteers and carry no weapons. He said they will begin immediate patrols sporadically in various parts of the city.
Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, said a major concern in the city is guns in the hands of a criminal element that operates under a more-violent philosophy. She said the police department needs to operate a CeaseFire program in conjunction with the coming of the Angels to make the organization’s presence more effective.
Tarpley said CeaseFire is a program in which the city identifies the most problematic residents, bring them in to assess their needs, address those needs, then watch for future problems where police and court intervention may be necessary.
Hughes said the department is applying for a grant that will include CeaseFire initiatives.
Gonzalez said he is aware there are problem areas in the city where guns are a reality, but he faces the same issues walking the streets in Cleveland and will not let the potential for guns affect his service to the community.
Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, said he would like to have members of the Guardian Angels organization meet with representatives of the various city block-watch groups to make their presence a collaborative effort. Gonzalez said he would make himself available to the block watches at any time.
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, Councilman DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd, and the Dr. Rev. Lewis Macklin II, pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church and president of Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhood (ACTION), also were in attendance.