Commuters on the Metro’s Red Line and the Metropolitan Branch Trail will have an added layer of public safety beginning this week.
The D.C. chapter of the Alliance of Guardian Angels, a volunteer-based anti-crime nonprofit founded in 1979, have started patrolling the NoMa–Galludet U and Rhode Island Metro stations as well as the MBT. The group’s Mid-Atlantic operations director, John Ayala (Angel nickname: “Unique King”) says he met one-on-one two weeks ago with Mayor Muriel Bowser, who suggested that the Guardian Angels could help cover the Northeast sections of the Red Line. (Michael Czin, a Bowser spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Ayala explains that part of the reason for patrolling those stations is the recent uptick in violent crime happening in Ward 5 and the fatal July 4 stabbing of Kevin Sutherland on Metro.
“It makes people feel a little safer knowing they’re not alone going through those areas,” Ayala says. “Our number one goal is to be there in that small portion [of the city] and to be a deterrent.”
This isn’t the fist time the Guardian Angels have patrolled D.C.’s Metro: Ayala says in the 1980s and ’90s, when the District was nicknamed “the murder capital” of the country, the group guarded the city’s trains. Known for their red berets, the Guardian Angels came to D.C. in 1989 from New York, where founder Curtis Sliwa saw an opportunity to fight against crime on that city’s Subway system. They’ve also patrolled the MBT before, given recurring crime-incidents there.
Still, the group’s forces are small: Whereas there were about 200 Guardian Angels in D.C. in previous decades, there are currently only about ten, Ayala says. “People want to make money these days, not volunteer,” he laments. “You don’t have as many people who want to get involved.” Ayala adds that the group’s numbers can range up to two dozen or so, depending on the time of year; recruits average about 25-years-old, and are mostly African-American males.
“If we can recruit some of these young people, that’ll be one less person who maybe won’t be getting involved in a gang, or committing crimes like stealing cars,” Ayala says. “When they run around with positive people, their mindset changes. Hopefully, that’ll help cut down on crime.”
The operations director says he hasn’t yet spoken with D.C. police Chief Cathy Lanier, the Metropolitan Police Department generally, or the Metro Transit Police Department about his group’s latest patrols, but adds that he looks forward to cooperating with law-enforcement to keep communities safe. (Lanier did thank Ayala via email on an MPD listserv.) Unlike the police, however, Guardian Angels are not armed and cannot afford communications-equipment like radios and transistors; instead, they have to rely on self-defense skills and their cell phones. Members of the group are trained to make citizen’s arrests.
So far, the D.C. Guardian Angels have been running patrols for three to four hours each night, mostly in the evening between 6 and 10 p.m. There are always at least two members on a patrol. Ayala says he hopes to get as many recruits as possible to be able to deploy more resources. For now, though, his group will largely supplement the efforts of the MPD to keep transitways safe.
“If we see something, we’ll notify MPD and get them on scene,” Ayala explains. “We can give information to them. If it’s not too dangerous, we’ll detain a person and bring them to the cops.”
Photo by Matt Dunn