So, I decided to wake up early and go to the Guardian Angels meeting at United Neighbors today. The full parking lot itself sends a pretty strong message to the Chief about Davenport residents' opinion of city safety.I've previously stated that I disagree with the philosophy of this group, but I still wanted to hear what they had to say, and also see the local reaction. I would guess that, as usual, I was the only one with an opposing viewpoint to show up and get the other side's views. Aldermen Lynn, Ambrose, and Meyer were in attendance, and Cruiser said that the Mayor attended the earlier meeting.
Mr. Sliwa is quite a public speaker, and he has a very interesting personal background, so he definitely was able to keep the people's attention for nearly 2 hours. He did seem to use a lot of cliches, rhyming phrases and slang, but I suppose that's just his speaking style. At times the meeting had a religious atmosphere, with Sliwa "preaching" and people in the crowd affirming him with the occasional, "that's right," and such.
It was fantastic to me to see such enthusiasm for fighting back against crime in Davenport, but I still can't agree with the methods of this group. If they were simply a national and enthusiastic neighborhood watch group that conducts patrols with radios, cameras, etc, I'd have signed up myself.
Unfortunately, their policy of "physical intervention" is a recipe for disaster. Mr. Sliwa uses the most extreme example, a woman being raped, as explanation of why this is the right thing to do. Of course you should intervene in that case, but the other example he gave was more interesting. He talked about 2 people fighting outside of a bar, and said that the GAs would break up the fight and send them each on their way. This is the kind of thing where you're asking to be stabbed or shot. Instead of a 2 person fight you end up with a brawl. Also, the idea that the mere presence of red-bereted citizens will prevent violent gang crimes seems hard to believe. These folks have shown willingness to pull guns on and fire at armed police officers, so why would the worry at all about unarmed citizens? Mr. Sliwa admitted that 6 GAs have been killed in the line of duty, and I think that's a real possibility here as well. He also didn't address the cell phone aspect, where dozens if not hundreds of people can show up in minutes ready to fight.
I also have some concerns over the fact that many of the Guardian Angel members seem to be wannabe cops. One of the GAs from out of town at the meeting was wearing swat-style cargo pants, and a police belt with a flashlight, handcuffs, and other things on it. I was interested to see if he had Mace and/or an extendable baton, but I didn't get a good enough look. The fact that he'd wear this to a citizen meeting makes me think he likes the outfit a little too much. I was involved with the Davenport Police Explorers back in high school, and there were members of that who were in it for the "power," or uniform, as opposed to helping out the community. If I had to guess, I'd bet those are the kind of people Bladel is worried about.
So, what to do...
I believe the answer lies with the existing DPD VIPS program. If I recall, they even wear similar red jackets. If we could get this much citizen excitement about that program, I feel it could make just as big of a difference at the Guardian Angels. Unfortunately, the VIPS program is currently filled with all, or nearly all, retired senior citizen-types. We need the full spectrum of the community participating in this program. The VIPS also carry police radios, save officers time usually spent doing things that don't require a sworn officer, and do things like patrol the downtown. They've been supported and working closely with the DPD for over a year, and I think they could make a real difference, with more members and more publicity.
Its probably too late for Bladel to propose that though, and judging by the enthusiastic response, I suspect we'll be seeing Guardian Angels patrolling Davenport by summer.