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Published: Sunday, 12/10/2006

Guardian Angels are back in Toledo

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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The Guardian Angels volunteer crime-watchers and their distinctive red berets have returned to patrol Toledo's streets after a two-decade absence.

Patrols by the first class of local Guardian Angels since the 1980s will begin this afternoon in the city's Old South End, with hopes of expanding elsewhere in Toledo.

Terry Wertz, 45, leader of the new Toledo chapter, said the angels will work to reduce crimes that are affecting residents' quality of life, such as gang violence, prostitution, and drug dealing.

"Our goal is to curb the crime so we can allow our kids to go outside and be safe," said Mr. Wertz, a South Toledo resident.

Police chief Mike Navarre and Brian Schwartz, spokesman for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, declined comment last night.

The angels graduated six local volunteers yesterday - three men and three women- after a five-month training course that stressed self-defense, first aid, and familiarity with local laws.

The group is based out of a former fire station at 1841 Broadway, where it rents space from Viva South Toledo, a nonprofit community group.

Now with chapters in cities throughout the world, the Guardian Angels were founded in the South Bronx of New York City in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa.

The angels had 36 members in Toledo in 1984, but left because of lack of support from city officials, according to Mr. Sliwa, the angels' president, who attended yesterday's graduation.

The difference between then and now, Mr. Sliwa said, is that community groups like Viva South Toledo are welcoming the angels.

"In the '80s, nobody wanted to come near us," Mr. Sliwa said. "Now things are quite different. We've proven we are not vigilantes."

The Guardian Angels patrol neighborhoods in small groups and wear a uniform of red berets, red jackets, and black pants. They are unarmed, but make citizen's arrests and carry cell phones for notifying police about crimes.

The angels plan to establish at least three patrols a week in higher-crime areas of the city, with an initial focus on South Toledo. Most of the patrols will happen at night. Mr. Wertz said.

The angels said their next steps are to increase the chapter's membership and patrols, and ultimately gain formal support from city officials.



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