TAMPA, Fla. – On any given Saturday night in Ybor City, you may come across a group that doesn’t blend in with the nightclub and bar-hopping crowd.
Dressed in their iconic shirts, jackets and berets, the Guardian Angels patrol areas like Ybor City to deter crime and ensure public safety.
"Mainly we patrol the streets as unarmed citizens and we keep an eye out for public safety,” said Ron “Jaws” Smith, leader of the Tampa chapter of the Guardian Angels. “We make sure people are safe, if we see someone committing a felony we'll detain them and call the police.”
Here's Jaws' extended interview with 10News reporter Phil Buck:
Smith started with the group in 1986 and has seen big changes within the last 30 years.
"Things are better. When I started it was the heyday of the crack epidemic," he said. "We couldn't even walk down the street, every corner there was crack dealers on all four corners of every corner.”
The Guardian Angels were started by Curtis Sliwa in New York City in 1979 and have grown into an international organization with chapters in more than 130 cities.
According to the Angel’s official website:
Guardian Angels are role models in the community and lead by example. They understand that problems of any community cannot be solved single-handedly and requires the cooperation of all its members. They recognize the need to foster community pride and civic mindedness to help remove many of the societal ills making safety patrol necessary. This attitude runs throughout the multitude of community programs and services volunteers administer. The Guardian Angels recognize that by thinking solely in terms of protection instead of prevention we are throwing up the white flag and surrendering to the inevitability of crime.
The group is made up of people from all types of backgrounds.
"Doctors, lawyers, military, police, students, seniors, accountants. Folks from every walk of life, every social economic status, every religion, every background,” said "D.A.S.H.", who has patrolled with chapters in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Tampa. “Wherever you go with the Guardian Angels you find a plethora of humanity that is really serving from a stewardship perspective to help eliminate crime.”
Here's D.A.S.H.'s extended interview with 10News reporter Phil Buck:
Every member is a volunteer who is vetted and trained before going on patrols.
"It is a brotherhood. We all have the same goal and that goal is to stop people from doing bad things and hurting others,” said Raymond “Ikon” Fagnon, leader of the Guardian Angels’ St. Petersburg chapter. "This is something I've been looking to do ever since I was a young kid. I read comic books, I wanted to grow up and be a hero, I wanted to do something good."
Here's Ikon's extended interview with 10News reporter Phil Buck:
Guardian Angels are prohibited from carrying any weapons, including pepper spray.
They've also earned respect from police officers.
“We get along with them great,” said Smith, the Tampa leader. “In the beginning, back when the group first started in ’79 there was not that great of a relationship with the police because they thought of us as vigilantes, but after all these years they’ve come to realize that we’re not.”