Guardian Angels bring neighborhood watch to Northern District

After a wave of armed robberies, assaults and break-ins tore through some of Baltimore's Northern District communities last fall, Oakenshawe resident Haydee Rodriguez wanted to help out local police.

"I was thinking of ways [the community] could support each other and keep each other safe, and also work with our Northern District officers," Rodriguez said.

With crime in the area seemingly getting worse and neighbors becoming more apprehensive, Rodriguez reached out to the Baltimore chapter of the Guardian Angels — a national group devoted to aiding local communities through safety awareness and crime prevention initiatives.

With Rodriguez's help, Oakenshawe and about six other Northern District neighborhoods have joined together in seeking to become a part of the Guardian Angel's Community Block Watch program.

Participants in the program agree to look out for their neighbors, Rodriguez said. "Neighbors agree to keep an eye out for one another, if they see something, say something," Rodriguez said. "It's a holistic approach to crime and safety."

For about an hour on Saturday afternoon, Rodriguez teamed up with volunteers from the Baltimore Guardian Angels, local police and Northern District community members to engage in a safety walk through the Harwood community. The group previously hosted a walk in Oakenshawe, Rodriguez said.

Beginning at East 28th Street and Guilford Avenue, Guardian Angel volunteers in their signature white shirts and red berets led the group through the neighborhood. As they walked, community residents and leaders, such as District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, discussed their experiences and various ways to stay safe.

Nick Sheridan, vice president of the Harwood Community Association, said that crime in the area has caused some residents to stay in their homes.

"We're really excited to have a group like this that's taking back the streets for the residents," Sheridan said. "It shows people that they're not alone."

The Guardian Angels, who have about 160 chapters around the world, first came to Baltimore in the 1980s, said Marcus Dent, regional director of the Baltimore Guardian Angels, who adopted the nickname "Strider." By tradition, Guardian Angels adopt a nickname.

The organization is known for its safety patrols and uniforms. The current chapter was organized in 2006 and is particularly active in the Southern District, including the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Morrell Park.

The Guardian Angels are working with Rodriguez and local police to officially launch the block watch program in the district, Dent said.

"It's up to the community to put it together, but it's Angel-powered because we're here to help guide them," he said. "We're not going to tell them what to do in their community — we're going to ask them what they need."

Northern District Police Major Richard Gibson commended Rodriguez's initiative in recruiting the Guardian Angels to the area.

"It's absolutely important for communities to take a proactive approach and think outside the box to help their [neighbors]," Gibson said.

He added that community walks such as the one Rodriguez organized Saturday could help fend off criminals in the neighborhood.

"It's almost as if I have extra bodies out there to help me patrol," Gibson said.

The district's Charles Village, Better Waverly and Abell neighborhoods are among those hoping to join the block watch program, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she wants to organize monthly safety walks in other Northern District neighborhoods.

"I love the city, I don't want to move because people are getting assaulted every day," Rodriguez said.

Citizen participation is paramount to the success of the Guardian Angel program, Dent said. He said he's glad to see police and residents in the Northern District work in tandem to help one another.

"The more people get involved," he said, "the more power they have to control their neighborhoods."

This story has been updated to reflect the correct rank for police Major Richard Gibson.

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