Angels Don't Fly Well In Music City by; Rick McCann

Nashville TN. Oct. 16, 2007
There are 14 men and women — armed only with martial arts training, handcuffs and a commitment to keep Nashville’s streets safe — walking the roads, alleyways and recesses near the Cumberland River on Saturday nights.They are Nashville’s Guardian Angels. On Sunday the organization’s somewhat controversial founder Curtis Sliwa came to town to pronounce six of them fully trained.“This is a big moment for Nashville,” said Sliwa, “The moment where a well-trained and committed group of ordinary citizens begins the work of helping to reclaim this city’s streets.”The group actually began its patrols several months ago, concentrating on Lower Broadway, Printer’s Alley and recesses near the river, said Rodney Bakken, the Nashville Chapter’s leader.The goal: glean experience from the downtown patrols while recruiting more volunteers and community support in east Nashville. Then, expand the group’s patrols into the areas of east Nashville near McFerrin Park.Calls for a Nashville chapter initially came from east Nashville.The group needs to grow larger, more adept at diffusing conflict, at recognizing situations in which the Angels can and should intervene, and hopefully to become more racially and ethnically diverse, said Bakken.The men and women at Sunday’s ceremony were mostly in their 40s and white.The group also needs to gather community support for patrols, said Robert Thornton, one of the trainees who graduated Sunday. Thornton, 28, a cable industry worker known on patrol as “Thorn”, believes the group will get there.The Guardian Angels, an unarmed citizen volunteer corps, was formed in 1979 by Sliwa, a nighttime manager at a Bronx fast-food restaurant who wanted to do something about the robberies he saw on New York City’s subway system every night.Sliwa believed that a dedicated, highly visible, well-trained group of citizen volunteers could make a difference.Angels train 6 monthsGuardian Angels now walk the streets in nine countries and about 90 American cities.Each one trains for about six months in martial arts, the law and the organization’s philosophy. Guardian Angels carry handcuffs and are prepared to make a citizens arrest if needed, Thornton said. That hasn’t happened here yet, Thorton said.“A lot of people think we are out here, a bunch of tough-guy vigilantes, but that’s not really what we are about. We’re just ordinary people that want to do our part to be sure people feel safe.”Since beginning its patrols in Nashville, the group has helped police search for a gun used in a shooting, stopped or intervened in an average of five fights per week and put a number of inebriated would-be drivers into cabs, said Thornton.But it is the group’s willing-to-engage attitude that sometimes simultaneously wins it accolades from communities and reserved acceptance or even opposition from law enforcement.In February when plans to form a Guardian Angels chapter in Nashville became public, Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said that, while he believes the Guardian Angels have done good work, he worries about the group’s hands-on practices.
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