A few curious homeowners flicked on their outside lights and peeked out as a dozen men and women wearing red berets walked briskly, two abreast, along Burton Avenue. It was after 10 p.m., and residents on this quiet street in San Gabriel, edgy because of the so-called Valley Intruder and news of a rape in the area the night before, were caught off guard by the unusual nighttime activity.
The patrol was one of several that have been conducted by prospective members of the fledgling San Gabriel Valley chapter of the Guardian Angels. And by the time they got to Burton Avenue, it had been a long evening.
They had gathered at 7:30 at Arcadia County Park for two hours of fitness and self-defense training, as well as preliminary instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid. Most of the trainees were young men between the ages of 16 and 25, and five in the group were women, the oldest a 51-year-old mother from Monrovia.
The Monrovia woman, who asked not be be identified, said she got involved after attending a July 22 meeting in Sierra Madre called by members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Guardian Angels, a volunteer group that conducts unarmed patrols primarily in high-crime areas.
The group organized in 1979 to patrol subways in New York City, where muggings and purse-snatchings are common. It grew rapidly and now has 5,000 members in 59 chapters nationwide. It organized in Southern California in 1981, and now has chapters in South-Central Los Angeles, the Westside and Hollywood. Members generally patrol in heavily crime-ridden areas to guard against criminal assaults on innocent people or property.
The group serves chiefly as a visual deterrent, but if members witness serious crimes they try to make citizen's arrests and detain the suspects until police arrive, said Scott McKeown, coordinator of the group in Los Angeles county.
"We are not vigilantes," he said. "We don't carry weapons."
The Guardian Angels first came to the West San Gabriel Valley to patrol on July 11 at the request of two worried Arcadia residents who called asking for help. The group held the Sierra Madre meeting to introduce members to the community and to encourage local residents to set up a San Gabriel Valley chapter, McKeown said.
An orientation meeting was held July 26, and about 25 people are now in training. Most of the trainees, who come from South Pasadena, El Monte, Temple City, Arcadia, Monrovia, Sierra Madre and San Gabriel, appear to come from middle-class backgrounds, in comparison to what McKeown described as the widespread image of Guardian Angels as inner-city toughs.
The women, most in their late teens and early 20s, expressed concern over the crime wave and said they enjoyed the camaraderie of the group.
The Monrovia woman's motivation was somewhat different from that of the younger women trainees. "I asked them to talk to our Neighborhood Watch meeting, and then I decided to join the group," she said.
"On patrol I mostly have been talking to people and doing public relations," encouraging residents to accept the group's presence.
"And with the training I feel more in control and I feel I know how to handle myself."
Others Patrol in Cars
McKeown said that although the main focus of the Guardian Angels is foot patrol by younger people, in other areas of the country the group also has car patrol divisions manned by older people as an extension of Neighborhood Watch.
He said that after the San Gabriel Valley foot patrol division is established, he hopes to start car patrol.
But foot patrol is of primary interest to the younger trainees, who often become involved in the Guardian Angels through their friends. Among the current group of trainees are three 16-year-olds who attend Monrovia High School.
"I joined because I am interested in cleaning up the city," said Joe Russell, who was at his third training session. He persuaded his friend, Mike Knight, to enroll, and then another friend, Toby Zucco, joined them.
According to Danny Lewis, director of the Westside chapter of the Guardian Angels, who has been overseeing the training of recruits in the San Gabriel Valley, prospective Guardian Angels go through an open-ended series of training sessions held twice a week. The sessions involve strenuous workouts in physical fitness, self-defense techniques, citizen's-arrest procedures (including the use of handcuffs) and foot-patrol techniques.
They also learn the rules under which Guardian Angels operate nationwide. Training time varies, depending on fitness and maturity levels. Prospective members become Guardian Angels only after they have completed the training, sometimes in as little as four weeks.
No Criminal Records