Guardians add Winthrop patrol

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 7, 2008

NEW HAVEN — The Guardian Angels made their presence felt in the Winthrop Avenue area Sunday as they announced an expansion of their community patrol in the city.

Wearing their signature red berets and white T-shirts, about a dozen of the volunteers, including founder Curtis Sliwa, walked along Winthrop and Edgewood avenues, chatting with residents and fanning out along the streets.

Sliwa, who started the Guardian Angels in New York in 1979, said its patrols in the Edgewood Park area in the past year have made a difference. With a recent spate of violence along Winthrop Avenue, Sliwa said, group members decided to expand a few blocks east.

“A lot of people on this side have said, ‘Please can you come down here, expand your radius, because things are out of control,'” he said. “You have to get patrols out, and I think we’ve proved that working with the police in Edgewood Park.”

Winthrop Avenue and the surrounding West River neighborhood have seen several violent crimes in the past few weeks.

Antoinette Joyner, a 55-year-old woman, died June 29 after being hit by a stray bullet near the corner of Winthrop Avenue and Chapel Street. Earlier the same week, three people were injured in a drive-by shooting on Winthrop Avenue.

In June 2007, Sliwa and other members of the Guardian Angels began work in Edgewood Park after a different group, the Edgewood Park Defense Patrol, initiated armed patrols in the area. At the time, members of the Edgewood Park Defense Patrol said police were not doing enough to keep residents safe.

The Angels now have 25 members in New Haven who patrol Edgewood Park several times a week. They hope to expand their patrols throughout the city. Eliezer Greer, leader of the Edgewood Park Defense Patrol, was also on hand Sunday.

Tony Gotavaskas, a Guardian Angel from Hartford, said he thinks the group makes a “big difference.”

“A lot of people, they see things and they don’t want to get involved — they’re afraid of retaliation,” he said. “So you need somebody like (the Guardian Angels). Plus, when they know somebody else is around, they might get a little more courage.”

Many neighborhood residents watched from their homes or stopped to speak with Sliwa and the other patrollers. One man slowed down to shout, “Thank you, Curtis,” from his car, but others had mixed feelings about the patrols.

Robert Artis, a resident of Edgewood Avenue, said he thinks the Angels could benefit the community.

“I’m against all violence myself, so my thing is that as much help that I can get it helps me, so it only betters my property value and betters the neighborhood — a better place for my kids to play,” he said.

But he added that he does not know how much of an effect a patrol will have, and he thinks it is more important to bring good employment to the area.

“It’s the neighbors that have to do the job — you can bring in the National Guard and it don’t matter because you can’t watch people 24 hours,” he said. “If people see something they have to stand up and say, ‘This is not what I’m having in my neighborhood.'”

James, a man sitting on Hotchkiss Street who declined to give his last name, said he thinks the patrols could attract more violence.

“I think there’s going to be problems with them around,” he said. “You want to stop the violence, go get us some jobs.”

But Rose Maldonado, who lives on Edgewood Avenue, said she welcomes the Guardian Angels. She said she grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and is familiar with their work there.

“I know what they’re about. They’re always trying to do things the right way,” she said. “When people start noticing what they’re about, maybe everything will cool down here.”

Police Officer Joe Avery, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the department can not gauge how much effect the Guardian Angels patrols have had in Edgewood Park.

“There’s no way for us to measure, in fact, whether they actually made a difference since we work with so many community partners in the area,” Avery said. “Our official stance on the Guardian Angels is basically we welcome all partnerships to all different areas of the community.”

Sliwa said Sunday that Edgewood Park has “measurably improved” since June 2007, and now the Guardian Angels are hoping to see the same improvement along Winthrop Avenue.

“Summer is when it really comes on strong,” he said. “If we’re successful here, maybe another area can benefit from the presence of the Guardian Angels.”

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