Proving grounds: The Guardian Angels take to Toronto streets, again

Lou Hoffer knows his organization can help, they just need a chance to prove it

They’ve been here since January 2006, Lou Hoffer and his Guardian Angels.

They’ve been out patrolling the downtown core for close to two months now, recognizable in their red jackets and berets. They’re doing exactly what the city wants its public to do, they’re being proactive – and still they can’t get any respect from the powers that be.

The Guardian Angels is the largest safety patrol organization in the world. They have over 6,000 members in over 80 cities worldwide. They have garnered the praise of people like former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Still, Hoffer can’t get a meeting with Toronto Mayor David Miller or Police Chief Bill Blair. The problem is, with money running out, there may not be much time left.

“We’re definitely under the gun financially,” Hoffer says, adding the Angels’ debt is mostly from everyday small business start-up costs.

When he brought the Angels to Canada, he made a decision to not stump for money right away, preferring to build up a good reputation before raising funds.
He’s quick to point out that the Angels is a non-profit group that is for the public and by the public.

“If people don’t want us here, we’re not going to be here, it’s as simple as that,” Hoffer says.

Misinformation and Ignorance

Hoffer wants you to know that the Angels are not vigilantes, in fact, 90% of what they do has nothing to do with crime. He wants you to know he finds the term vigilante insulting. He doesn’t want you to be misinformed; he doesn’t want you to be ignorant, much the same way that he wants you to be safe.

The Angels, who patrol areas such as Regent Park, in groups of at least six, are just doing what the city says it wants, Hoffer says. They are public citizens being pro-active and caring about their city.

“Here are communities and citizens stepping up and getting out on the streets in a pro-active sense,” Hoffer says. “Why would you not take advantage of that and embrace it? Yet you have a mayor and a police chief who won’t even meet with us.”

The Toronto Police Department could not be reached for comment.

The Guardian Angels started up in New York in 1979, founded by Curtis Silwa, a former McDonalds night manager. This is not the first time the Angels have tried to move into Canada. The first chapter opened up in 1982 and patrolled the GTA until 1984. A second chapter tried again in 1992, in the Parkdale area. Now, in 2006, Lou Hoffer and his team, which includes veterans of both those earlier Angels incarnations, are hoping for a more successful outing. Though, so far, it hasn’t been that smooth.

Hoffer thinks that most of the ill will towards his organization is the result of ignorance and misinformation. He points to the CyberAngels website, an Internet watchdog run by the group, or the anti-bullying programs that the Angels implement as examples of what his organization does outside of community patrols.

Hoffer, who spent five years as a Toronto police officer, understands a little something about safety and crime. What he doesn’t understand is why the city hasn’t embraced his organization.

The frustration is palpable in his voice when he talks about the city needing help. He wants you to know that the Guardian Angels can provide that help. He wants you to know that they’re here for you if you just give them a chance.

“We’re out there on the streets.” Hoffer said. “There’s no other organization that is out there on the streets interacting with the people who need help.