In the wake of the recent spate of the violence in the Mission, two very different groups are upping their presence in the area. The first is the San Francisco Police Department. According to SFPD Chief Jeff Godown, the SFPD is planning on reallocating resources from other neighborhoods to deal with the string of shootings that’s been largely blamed on the escalating conflict between the rival Norteno and Sureno gangs.
The second group, the Guardian Angels, is slightly more unconventional. You may recognize the Guardian Angels from their red berets, white t-shirts and inability to be actual police officers. Started by founder Curtis Sliwa in late 1970’s New York City, the Guardian Angels are now an international group that organizes anti-crime citizen’s patrols in urban areas around the world. The organization has been in San Francisco for years but have recently seen a significant uptick in activity.
The group was previously patrolling the Mission twice a week and, after the recent string of murders, have upped that number to four times a week.
Not being actual cops, the group isn’t allowed to arrest suspects. Instead they’re in the practice of making citizens arrests–much like Paris Hilton’s sister Nicky attempted to do outside of a Los Angels IHOP and various hippies have unsuccessfully attempted to do to Karl Rove.
That said, they haven’t made one of these citizens arrests in over six months and the last one they attempted involved apprehending a teenager in the midst of rolling a joint. Other recent Guardian Angel activity has included dumping the beers of revelers at Dolores Park, handcuffing a kid suspected of skipping on a Muni fare and calling a local blogger a “pussy.”
This isn’t to say that the sole activity of the group is harassing youngsters on public transportation and stopping hipsters from frolicking in their natural habitat. What the Guardian Angels are really involved in is security theatre. There’s not all that much they can do to directly prevent crime and, let’s be honest, these people are really not all that intimidating to real-life gang members. The idea is to let criminals know that there’s someone out there ready and willing to alert the authorities if they see something suspicious–like a roving, garishly dressed neighborhood watch.
Even if, in the end, what they do is relatively ineffectual, they’re a group claiming to represent the greater community attempting to “take back the streets” which should be applauded. At least in the abstract.
However, there isn’t a consensus that the Guardian Angels’ presence in the Mission is a good thing. While some Mission residents say that seeing the group on patrol makes them feel safe, others argue that gang members are only violent towards each other and the pretense of the Guardian Angels only brings the rest of the community into the conflict.
There’s a perception, partially due to their dress code, that the group is comprised of nothing but full-on, grade-A nutbags, but eye-catching attire is essential for a group whose function is 90% optics. That said, they give themselves names like “Scorpion”, “Nemo” and “Greencard” that makes the group seem like overgrown kids playing dress up.
There’s also the issue of the downright bizarre interview the group’s San Francisco area leader, Jerry Longoria, gave to the Appeal’s own Katie Baker a couple years ago.
A 1985 report by the San Diego Association of Governments found that, “the Angels may not reduce the violent offenses they seek to prevent they seek to prevent although they may have limited impact on property crimes[and] segments of the population feel safe when Angels patrol which may be associated with the Angels performing an order maintenance role.”
Whether they’re crazy wanna-be vigilantes or a useful support system for for an over-burdened police force is up for debate however, you can rest assured that those Dolores Park hipsters whose beers the Angels recently dumped will all be ironically wearing those red berets in a year or two. Wearing them like a uniform.