The familiar red jackets and matching berets of the Guardian Angels will be a presence on the streets of Huntington Station through the end of the year in an effort to help stem gang violence and recruitment.
The inaugural patrol commenced in Thursday's driving rain with about a dozen community members joining Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and three of his civilian patrol members as they walked through what the Suffolk County police have identified as a hot spot of criminal activity.
"Because the violence is concentrated and not spread out, I believe we can have an impact in a very swift manner," Sliwa said.
Sliwa was invited by the Huntington Housing Authority to patrol and explain plans for the creation of a Guardian Angels chapter in Huntington Station.
More than three dozen residents, including local officials and business owners, listened as he outlined a plan in the auditorium of the recently closed Jack Abrams School, the symbolic "Ground Zero" of the community's problems, housing authority chairman William Spencer said.
Sliwa said members of his city chapter will come out through the end of the year and patrol after school and on Friday and Saturday nights. They will aim to recruit residents to form Huntington Station's own chapter to offer young people an alternative to joining a gang.
Civilian patrol members will be expected to volunteer eight hours a week and will be trained in CPR, first aid, self-defense and understanding the legal process, Sliwa said.
"Hopefully by January 1st we'll have enough local recruits who have gone through the course that they can then replace what the New York City Guardian Angels were doing in the interim," Sliwa said.
Joe Droual, a martial arts expert from Huntington who has pledged to train volunteers in self-defense, said it's up to the community to take back the streets.
"The violence is unacceptable," he said. "Everybody should spur their neighbors to get involved."
Through a spokesman, County Executive Steve Levy said, "Any extra eyes and ears in our communities are a good thing."
And Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said unity is essential in cleaning up the area. "To be successful, the Guardian Angels must coordinate what they are doing with the Suffolk County Police Department's enhanced enforcement efforts," Petrone said in a statement, adding he would be willing to host a meeting between the two.
Spencer said the violence has reached a level that requires calling in extra help. Information provided by Suffolk police shows the majority of reported violent attacks - assaults, robberies and homicides - since 2008 in Huntington Station occurred within three-quarters of a mile of Abrams.
More than 20 attacks happened within two blocks of the school between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31 of this year.
Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said in a statement Thursday that violent crime in Huntington Station is down 31.8 percent for the first nine months of 2010 over the corresponding time period last year.
Still, Spencer said, "When you see murders happening in our town, around our kids and you hear that the police are doing everything they can, you say to yourself you have to do something."