Brooklyn Native Relates To 104COP Efforts
Curtis Sliwa-founder of the Guardian Angels, the international volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime patrollers- told members of the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol at their Feb. 14 meeting in Glendale that both organizations had much in common-namely their dedication to the often-thankless job of protecting the communities they serve.
Sliwa, who now may be more recognizable for his spots on NY1 and used car commercials, was a guest speaker at the 104COP’s meeting at St. Pancras’ Pfeiffer Hall.
The red beret wearing Sliwa accompanied his wife Melinda Katz, a former city council member who is running for Queens Borough President, to the meeting, but stole the show.
Silwa wasted no time in relating to the 104COP, saying his very first martial arts lessons as a teenager were taken on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood.
“I’d take the L train, which was not the train for all the hipsters like it is now. L stood for lousy line,” Sliwa said.
Sliwa stated that he had seen the neighborhood in the “old school days,” “on the decline” and now, as the community “rebounds.” Throughout the change, he said, there is one dominating constant: It’s a neighborhood that has cared for its neighbors.
“That’s the way I was brought up; to be your brother’s keeper. What you’re doing now, is what I have been doing for 35 years,” Sliwa told the group. “For us, it’s just more of a national level.”
But some residents, usually ones committing crimes, according to the Brooklyn-native, don’t always respect volunteer crime-fighting services.
“We have to constantly defend ourselves,” he said. “We’re always told to mind our business, that we’re a nag, a nudge, someone turning up problems when there are no problems.”
But whereas the 104COPs receive staunch support from Assemblyman Mike Miller, who was present at the meeting, Sliwa’s Guardian Angels were initially labeled vigilantes by former Mayor Ed Koch.
Opposed by the mayor at around the time the group was founded in 1979, the Guardian Angels, particularly Sliwa, faced obstacles unfamiliar to many community block watchers in 2013.
“In 13 years I got locked up 76 times,” Sliwa said. “They believed that we were a menace to society.”
Some criticism may have been warranted; in 1992 Sliwa publicly apologized for staging several subway rescues during the 1980s in order to get publicity for the group.
During the meeting, Sliwa pointed to the murder of Trayvon Martin committed by George Zimmerman last February in Florida to further emphasize his point that groups like 104COP are unfairly criticized, saying the media used this example to attack such groups.
“Zimmerman was no block watcher,” Silwa stated. “He was a nut-job.”
Frank Kotnik, Jr., 104COP president, agreed with some of Sliwa’s sentiments.
“We’ve had to work on the same relationships since 1976,” he said.
Many of which are with local residents.
“Generally, everything circles back local. Crimes are done by locals,” Sliwa said. “We’re right. The apathetic couch potato is wrong.”
After Sliwa’s speech, Kotnik expressed his approval.
“Crime fighting is everybody’s business, not just the police’s,” he said.
But despite the criticisms and other obstacles-volunteers can be limited because of families, jobs and other responsibilities that take precedent- the crime-fighting associations both said they receive plenty of praise and support from locals.
“I’ve been patted so hard on the back, I’ve had to see a chiropractor,” Sliwa said. “This is what every community needs.”
Nearby communities seem to agree. The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association have taken advantage of the NYPD’s Block Watcher Program, in an effort to keep their community more informed and safe, they said.
For Katz, who opted to just thank the group for their work once Sliwa finished his speech, her spouse’s talk couldn’t have hurt in terms of her gaining community support.
“You know, I’m pretty conservative but one of the best council members we ever had was this Democrat right here,” said Community Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri, as he motioned toward Katz at the meeting.
The next 104COP meeting will be Thursday, Mar. 14, 8 p.m. at St. Pancras’ Pfeiffer Hall on Myrtle Ave. near 68 St. in Glendale. For more information, call: 1-718-497-1500.