The Guardian Angels Monday toured a high-crime section of Huntington Station near the shuttered Jack Abrams School in a bid to inspire residents to adopt the group's crime-fighting tactics.
Founder Curtis Sliwa, after meeting privately with Huntington Housing Authority officials, said street patrols by local volunteers could help curb the disproportionate rate of violent crime in Huntington Station and make the area safe so the school can reopen.
"We'd like to see that school open . . . To me, that would be a statement of victory for the community, that they've taken their school back and made it safe for the kids," Sliwa said at a news conference outside the Huntington Housing Authority on Lowndes Avenue. "Even though we're outsiders, we think it sends the wrong message - of retreat, surrender."
"Our priority is to make the community safe," said Dr. William Spencer, chairman of the Huntington Housing Authority's board of commissioners. "We realize that the gang issue is pervasive so we need support in the community ... we have to work together if we're going to be successful."
In July, the school board voted to close the school after a series of violent incidents, including the shooting of a 16-year-old girl near the school's campus
In 2008 and 2009, about 49 percent of crimes in the Town of Huntington took place in Huntington Station, which comprises an area smaller than 7 percent of the whole town. And more than 20 attacks ocurred in the two blocks around the school from January 2008 through this July.Monday, Sliwa and a handful of Angels walked past the school, covering some five blocks in the Suffolk police Second Precinct's new "enforcement zone."
Suffolk officials also unveiled a round-the-clock initiative to monitor 30 surveillance cameras around Huntington Station. The cameras, installed by members of the town's Business Improvement District over the past year, will send feeds to a central station at the Huntington Town Community Outreach Center, where town code enforcement officers and Suffolk police will screen the video, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy said.
Matt Harris, a Huntington Station resident for more than 30 years, said local law enforcement has had limited success in defusing gang activity, and a group like the Angels could equip residents with the tools to safeguard their own community.
"The Guardian Angels will train us, the residents, how to solve our problems . . . they're not going to do this for us," he said. "The success of this is going to be dependent on volunteers."
Still, the group doesn't have the high profile on Long Island that it has in New York City and elsewhere, said Suffolk County Auxiliary Police Officer Joe Cruz of Melville.Cruz worried that residents who who haven't had exposure to the Angels - particularly recent immigrants to this enclave for minorities - may be alarmed to see a contingent of red-shirted people walking the streets late at night. Red is used as a gang color.
"I'm all for it . . . but I think the people are going to need more education about them," said Cruz, who suggested that the town train its code enforcement officers to be auxiliary police.
Levy said he welcomed the Angels, but hoped they would stay on long enough to make an impact.
"We hope that if they're going to want to help that they stay for an extended period of time," Levy said.For his part, Guardian Angel Ben Garcia of East Harlem said that with his Spanish-speaking skills, he'd be able to make inroads among Latino immigrants who don't speak English.
"Growing up, I had a choice of the Angels or the gangs," he said. "People understand when you speak from experience."