As The Canberra Times noted this morning (albeit in an alarmist manner), the Guardian Angels are setting up a chapter here in Canberra . This is fantastic news and should be invaluable in making Canberra and safer and more friendly place.
Despite the Canberra Times and, more concerningly, police minister Simon Corbell’s pronouncements, the Guardian Angels is not a vigilante group. The Guardian Angels is not about taking the law into their own hands, but is instead all about conflict resolution and deterrent, both through street patrols and education programs.
I’ll forgive the CT angle on the story as they were really just repeating the whining of Simon Corbell which is, for a newspaper, understandable. The really sad thing here is that Simon Corbell seems to be incapable of doing even the most basic little bit of research and is instead focussing on the political views of the Guardian Angels’ founder Curtis Sliwa, tarnishing a valid and valuable group in the process, and ignoring the fact that the local chapter of the Guardian Angels have already started talking with the police to make it clear what their aims are.
From the above-linked CT article:
Police Minister Simon Corbell said Canberra usually ranked as one of Australia’s two safest cities and there was no pressing crime problem.
He questioned why there was the need for such a group. ”There is no room for vigilante or paramilitary-type groups in community safety,” he said.
Mr Corbell described Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa as a right-wing conservative commentator and encouraged those involved to give their time to existing organisations working to minimise crime, drug and alcohol problems.
I agree with Simon on one point. Other places are worse. As I mentioned to 2CC’s Mike Welsh this afternoon, a place like Melbourne with its highly-publicised attacks on Indians would, on the face of it, appear to be a more likely candidate for this type of group, however that does not mean that such a group is without merit in Canberra. Canberra has a problem with crime, mostly of the assault and assault plus robbery type, and unfortunately there is only one deterrent to that which Simon seems interested in pursuing, and that is a greater police presence. A good idea for sure, but not one which is practical for any number of economic reasons which Simon would be sure to rattle off if pressed about why police aren’t standing on every street corner at every given moment.
The bottom line is that these types of offences are usually done without witnesses. They are, by their nature, opportunistic, and having people around (be it police, security guards or Guardian Angels) acts as a significant deterrent.
As I said to Mike Welsh this afternoon, and as the founder of the local chapter Damian Heffernan also went to great lengths to emphasise, the Guardian Angels is a peaceful organisation with a mission to prevent violence. As Damian pointed out in the CT article and to Mike Welsh this afternoon:
the worst case scenario is to ever have violence occur or an arrest that’s basically considered as a failure
It should also be noted that the Guardian Angels is a citizen volunteer organisation. They have no special powers and are not under the misapprehension that they do. They are fully aware of the fact that their only power of arrest is the power of citizen arrest, however unlike the vast majority of us ordinary everyday people, they have studied the subject of citizens arrest and understand what that entails. They will also call the police, just like you and I would, if a situation warrants their attention (such as an assault occurring). They are not out to take over from the police but, as Damian said, they are out to hopefully reduce the police’s workload by taking lawful means to stop things happening before they start.
The Guardian Angels have a long track record of successful peace-keeping operations (for lack of a better term), starting with their great work in cleaning up the New York subway. It is a proven success story, so it is beyond me why Simon Corbell is so opposed to it except for political reasons.
This theory is solidified by the fact that the vast majority of the Guardian Angels’ planned work in Canberra will be in education, including working with local schools on anti-bullying programs. This is clearly not an extremist vigilante group, and one look at the organisation’s website  would have shown Simon Corbell that. Instead, Simon chooses to be of the belief that anything related to a conservative talk radio host (Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, is a conservative New York talk radio host, formerly on WABC  with a nationally syndicated program, and now on New York’s AM 970 The Apple ) must be bad despite his own police being more than willing to work with the Guardian Angels.
I’ll just be glad that Simon isn’t the police commissioner and doesn’t have any real authority over them.
In the meantime, I fully support the Guardian Angels opening a Canberra branch and applaud Damian Heffernan’s initiative in contacting the Guardian Angels so that he can open a branch here. I also look forward to Curtis Sliwa visiting Canberra to launch the chapter next month…if that is indeed what the Canberra Times meant when they wrote:
Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and the group’s founder in Japan, ”Duke” are expected to launch the Canberra chapter next month.
A visit from Curtis would be absolutely wonderful. I have a lot of respect for him and it would be an absolute privilege to shake his hand if he does come to town.
The Guardian Angels is a great organisation, and I look forward to seeing them out and about in Canberra.
Update: Mike Welsh’s interview of Damian Heffernan is up on 2CC’s website . End Update