In the beginning, New York City Mayor Ed Koch publicly opposed the group. Many government officials also opposed the group whenever they attempted to open a chapter in their cities, including Toronto Mayor David Miller and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. Over the years, the controversy has died down in many cities; and as citizen involvement and outreach has increased, there has been less public opposition to the group by administration officials. Ed Koch later reversed his stance on the organization, and former New York City Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have publicly supported the group.
In 1992, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa issued a public apology for faking several subway rescues in the 1980s in order to get publicity for the group. Since the statute of limitations on filing false police reports had expired, no charges were brought against him or the organization. Sliwa also admitted that the New York City Chapter primarily patrolled the Restaurant Row section of midtown Manhattan, except for occasional well-publicized patrols in other neighborhoods and subway patrols to recruit new members.
The original and main Guardian Angels activity is "Safety Patrol" in which members walk the streets or ride transit. Guardian Angels must be in uniform to represent the organization. They can be identified by their red [beret]s and red jackets or white T-shirts with the red Guardian Angels logo of an eye inside a pyramid on a winged shield.
Chapters operate similar to franchise networks supporting one another regionally under standard rules, regulations, and training. The Guardian Angels states that it is an equal opportunity organization that encourages diversity.
The organization accepts volunteers who do not have a recent or serious criminal record and are not members of a gang or racial-hate group. In order to join the Safety Patrol program, members must be at least 16 years old; youth programs for younger applicants are offered. Safety Patrol members are prohibited from carrying weapons and are physically searched before patrolling. They are trained in first aid and CPR, law, conflict resolution, communication, and basic martial arts. Members are paired up and follow the directions of a Patrol Leader. If their own or other citizens' lives or health are endangered, they are allowed to do whatever is lawful and necessary.
The Guardian Angels have also begun to include youth programs, teacher programs, disaster response, an Internet safety program called the CyberAngels, and self-defense courses, as well as community outreach addressing issues beyond crime.
CyberAngels was founded in 1995 by Gabriel Hatcher as an online "neighborhood watch." Originally the group monitored chat rooms directly with the intent of apprehending sexual predators. Later the group took what it had learned and changed its focus to educating police, schools, and families about on-line abuse and cyber crime. In 1998, CyberAngels received a Presidential Service Award. MacSupport.com founder Tony Ricciardi was an early member of the group.
In 2009, at the Angels' 30th-anniversary celebration held in New York City, and then again in 2010 at the World Conference held in San Francisco, founder Curtis Sliwa announced the plan to develop Internet-based training for the organization.
The plan as announced was first to solidify the standards for the organization so that members from around the world could easily interact and patrol effectively together without much re-training. The other goal for the training included an effort towards reducing the liability potential for members and for the organization during their physical interventions of crime deterrence.
In 1992, a New York Times article discussed the lack of training faced by recruits and members of the organization.
At the 2011 International Conference held in Chicago Illinois USA, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa signed into effect the Official Guardian Angels' primary defensive tactics system. The program was also endorsed by National Director Miguel "3rdRail" Fuentes and International Director, Keiji "Duke" Oda. The Defensive Tactics program is a modular program which was designed to instruct safety patrol members in a variety of domains including self-defense techniques, ground survival, weapons survival, and arrest and control tactics. The program was designed by Defensive Tactics Instructor and Chicago safety patrol member Fernan Vargas with input from Miguel Fuentes. The program, designed by a certified law enforcement defensive tactics instructor, offers appropriate use of force training to safety-patrol members based on a law enforcement model. Safety-patrol members are taught how to properly place their defensive tactics onto the use of force continuum to ensure appropriate action and minimize liability. A website was launched to support the program. Travel to spread the training organization wide is one of the goals of the founder. Modules of the Guardian Angels Defensive Tactics Program have been taught to chapter members from Illinois, Indiana, Washington DC, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Washington, Virginia, and other states.
Outside of New York City, the Guardian Angels first established chapters in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, London, Toronto, Dallas, Tokyo, Houston, Cape Town, Auckland, Savannah, Las Vegas, Reno, Seattle, and York. Subsequently, the organization established chapters in smaller cities, such as the cities of Springfield and Brockton, Massachusetts; Sacramento and Stockton, California; and Portland, Maine. In May 2011, a chapter was organized in Indianapolis. The Los Angeles, York, and Sacramento Chapters worked with official law enforcement officers and agencies.
The organization's first West Coast chapter was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles, California. It grew quickly, reaching its peak in membership in the mid-1980s with six sub-chapters and over 250 members. However, membership dropped in the 1990s and by 2000 there was only one Venice Beach sub-chapter remaining in the city.
There were a few attempts to restart the Los Angeles Chapter in 2003 and 2004 with eventual success in 2006. Alex Makarczyk, who previously served in the Los Angeles Chapter in the mid-1980s, worked to restore the chapter after James Richards, a fellow Guardian Angel was shot to death outside his home on October 18, 2000. He was not on patrol when he was gunned down in the early morning hours, but he was assisting local law enforcement with information about drug-related crime in his neighborhood.
The Sacramento chapter of the Guardian Angels was the third chapter formed in California, following the Los Angeles and San Francisco chapters. At its height, the Chapter consisted of over 50 people ranging in age from 16 to 50 years old. There, the police worked closely with the local chapter and supplied a phone number and a liaison officer for them to use within their People Oriented Police (P.O.P.) division. The chapter headquarters was a rent-free half of a commercial medical duplex for several years. The Sacramento Chapter also featured a bike patrol to help provide additional eyes and ears along the American River Parkway. Using CB radios, patrols could call back to the headquarters and have the freedom not to depend upon public pay telephones to call the Sacramento Police.
Patrols ranged from 20 to as few as two Angels, though a minimum of three people was the standard. Members were assigned positions and specific locations in a patrol: the Patrol Leader was at the front; Communications was beside or behind; and Runners came next and would usually be the majority of the patrol, along with the second, who was in charge of keeping the patrol organized at the rear. Angels unable to go on patrols typically monitored the CB radio at the headquarters. Thus, a chapter could enlist volunteers who were legally considered handicapped. When a situation required immediate physical action on a patrol, the Patrol Leader would send the Runners under the direction of the second and either send the Communications person (with another Angel) to find a phone and call police, or to radio the situation to Chapter Headquarters to call a P.O.P. officer. When on bicycles, the second and a Runner would leave bikes with the Patrol Leader. Long-distance communications between the parts of a patrol were achieved by specific patterns of blown whistles, which every member was required to have along with a working pen, pad of paper, and flashlight.
The Sacramento chapter went freely throughout the entire city and surrounding areas, ranging from North Highlands to the then (1980s) gang-infested Oak Park neighborhood, then further south into the Meadowview and Pocket Areas. Walking sometimes 10 miles during the course of a four-hour patrol, Angels even crossed the Sacramento River into neighboring Yolo County to patrol what were then the communities of Bend and Brite, now incorporated into West Sacramento. The Oak Park patrols went through what was Crips territory, a gang originating in Los Angeles. The Crips were identified by blue rags hanging from their pockets; their rival gang, the Bloods, did the same thing but used red rags. Since the uniform of the Guardian Angels is a red and white T-shirt, the Crips at the time considered them enemies while the Bloods saw them as weak fakes of their own gang.
On occasion, the Sacramento Chapter patrols used cars to reach areas that were too far to walk, and several times the Sacramento Chapter was called into service in other cities, helping launch the chapter in Stockton CA. Both helped with special events in San Francisco, such as the Halloween-time Erotic Exotic Ball. They traveled as far away as Los Angeles, where with the local chapter they officially assisted the police with crowd control during the Rose Parade.
The Guardian Angels were mostly greeted favorably in the city, and sought out by the media to comment on crime and local issues. Press conferences were held during the tense time before Eric Royce Leonard, dubbed the "Thrill Killer", was arrested in 1991; and during the controversial Sacramento debut of Colors about the Bloods and Crips. Because of the stance of the Guardian Angels in response to Leonard's murders of three Round Table Pizza employees, the Old Sacramento restaurant offered free dinner for one patrol every Saturday and Sunday night.
The Tampa Bay region of Florida has always been an active area within the group's history. There have been 2 chapters serving the Tampa Bay area since the group was founded. In 1984 the first Tampa chapter was established but lasted until 1992. A second chapter was established in 1999. The Guardian Angels have been active in Orlando, Florida due to the increase in murder and crime rates. A group in Boston was also formed in 2007; at first, Mayor Tom Menino opposed them, but when the public welcomed the group, he eventually supported it. Residents of nearby Brockton, Massachusetts launched a chapter in March 2008 in response to a rise in street violence, and they were quickly able to build a working relationship with the city's police chief.
In 2007, they started recruiting in Kansas City, Missouri, and a chapter was started with five Guardian Angels in October 2008. In 2010, they started recruiting in Portland, Oregon. After being told by the National Training Director that they had to make 3 arrests per month, the chapter asked about this new directive and at that time was told they never even had a chapter, despite reports to the contrary; the Kansas City chapter soon disbanded and now patrol their city on their own from vehicles seeking persons of interest and criminal activity.
A chapter was formed in Fresno California in 1984 by Peggi LaJune. Her son, Jaryd Crabtree, would like to restore efforts there. His parents met while in the Guardian Angels.
In 2016, the Washington, DC chapter announced they would increase their presence on the DC Metro System following an increase in violent crime.
A local organization of the Guardian Angels was formed in Japan in 1996. The Guardian Angels Japan has chapters in most of the major cities and is second only to America in membership and activities. Keiji Oda, the founder and president of the Guardian Angels Japan, joined the Boston and New York City chapters in the 1980s. The Guardian Angels concept faced opposition in Japan, but Oda succeeded in convincing Japanese officials that the organization would be run by Japanese members for the Japanese people, and the principles of the organization were not just American but universal. Official acceptance culminated with a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2005. The Guardian Angels were the first community organization in Japan to ever be awarded non-profit status.
Four members of the Japanese Guardian Angels appear in an episode of Insomniac with Dave Attell filmed in Tokyo. Dave interviews them before their attention is diverted to an (apparently) drunk and disorderly individual.
A chapter of the Guardian Angels was established in the State of Israel. The Guardian Angels Israel is led by Jill Shames a social activist and martial artist who had migrated there. Guardian Angels Israel has completed a few Safety Patrols but primarily works with at risk youth in the Jewish Ethiopian (Falasha) immigrant population.
In London the Guardian Angels have been active since 1989; by 2007 their numbers had dwindled to a group of around 12. In the United Kingdom, the law requires that people use only "reasonable force" as appropriate to the situation, which leads Guardian Angel training to centre on using the minimum possible force, and to only use force to prevent a dangerous situation from escalating. All violent crimes are reported to the police, and intervention leading to citizens' arrests (legal in Britain) or use of force is only employed in extreme cases.
Their presence in London was controversial in the first decade of existence, with press articles accusing the group of vigilantism or attempting to avoid paying for travel on the London Underground whilst wearing their colours. In 1989, discussion in Parliament raised the possibility of American members of the Guardian Angels being declared persona non grata owing to their presence being "not conducive to the public good", but this was rejected.
The Manchester Chapter was established around 1991 and ceased operating in '96. The Chapter was run by Ian 'Mach One' McMahon and then Amanda 'Lynx' Quinn who dealt with the actual closure of the chapter and its final patrols.
The Guardian Angels South African Chapter was started by Carl Viljoen in 2004 in Cape Town. Other chapters are in Kuilsriver, Cape Town, Western Cape and Potchefstroom, North West Province.
A Toronto, Ontario chapter was originally formed in 1982 and ran until 1984. A smaller chapter ran briefly in the Parkdale area of Toronto in 1992–1993 but disbanded. The 2005 "Boxing Day shooting" resulted in the death of teenager Jane Creba on a busy downtown street, and provoked renewed attention to law-and-order issues in Canada, and Curtis Sliwa stated that he had been contacted by many Torontonians interested in having a local chapter. On July 13, 2006, a new chapter of the Guardian Angels Canada formed in Toronto. However, both mayor David Miller and police chief Bill Blair stated they were not interested in trying what had not worked twice before. When Sliwa arrived with three other Angels, Miller declined to meet with them, stating that police work was best left to the police. Despite the opposition of the Mayor, community groups, and the police chief, the Toronto Chapter moved ahead. 2006 mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield expressed her support for the Guardian Angels as did former television anchor Peter Kent and former professional boxer (and now radio talk show host) Spider Jones. Toronto's first group of Guardian Angels hit the streets Thursday, July 13 for their inaugural patrol in the city's downtown core. The group's official launch in Toronto came just two days after members were forced to move their graduation ceremony from a seniors residence on Dundas Street.
A Vancouver chapter was in operation as of November 2006. There was a chapter there in the early 1980s. Some of the alumni from that group are assisting with the new chapter.
An attempt to organize a chapter in Ottawa failed after the police and city refused to cooperate plus a negative reaction and lack of interest from the majority of its population.
A Calgary chapter was set up, with the first group finishing its training in March 2007.
A Halifax chapter is in operation as of May 2008. Recent outbreaks of violent crime in Halifax had prompted citizens to contact the Guardian Angels, urging them to start a chapter.
In January 2006, the Guardian Angels opened its New Zealand Headquarters in Henderson, a suburb of Waitakere City west of Auckland, New Zealand's fifth-largest and largest cities respectively (to be amalgamated with others into a "super-city" in 2010). The NZ National Director is Andy "Chieftain" Cawston.
New Zealand's inaugural Guardian Angels Patrol was held on January 13, 2006. Since then, Guardian Angels have also been active in South Auckland; however the activities of that Chapter have been temporarily halted for logistical purposes.
On August 30, 2007 Curtis Sliwa graduated the Auckland CBD Chapter, led by Anna "Kimodo" Cruse. This Chapter's first official Patrol was on the following evening.
Members of the Wellington Chapter held their inaugural training and orientation Patrol on October 6, 2006 in the Auckland CBD.
Within New Zealand, The International Alliance of Guardian Angels is recognized and registered as a Charitable Trust for tax purposes. Their headquarters is the Henderson Returned Services Association Inc. offices on Railside Avenue, Henderson, NZ.
Cybertanod, Role Model Cop, and the Barangay PeaceKeeping Action Team (BPAT) program of The Philippine National Police are some of the contributions of The Guardian Angels Philippines Chapter in Police organization. Joint police programs of the Guardian Angels resulted in national awards for officers and local police stations where the Guardian Angels works. The chapter covered Southern Mindanao and recently expanded into Northern Luzon. Today, the Philippines Chapter aims to spread the program in the South East Asia region and is currently developing an independent Citizen Police Organization concept for the region. The local chapter presently gathers support to host the 1st Joint Police and Guardian Angels Annual International Citizen Safety Patrol as its beyond border initiatives on Guardian Angels violence prevention — Global Public Safety awareness campaign. The effort in South East Asia is under the watch of Mike Zarate as National Director for Philippines.
In 2007, a chapter formed in Mexico City led by the Canadian professional wrestler Vampiro.
A Guardian Angels chapter actively patrolled in Sydney in the early nineties, but disbanded after a short time.
A chapter was formed in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, in 2008, but has yet to begin patrolling. Some school and internet-safety programs have been conducted.
Seven chapters are currently present in Italy, from east to west and north to south: Milan, Brescia, Padova, Bologna, Sassari, Olbia and Cagliari. Operations will be starting soon in Udine and Avezzano. The Italian Guardian Angels share the common trait of the organization in serving their communities, but a great deal of their work is focussed on helping the homeless and elders in need, in providing first aid to people in distress. Future developments involve youth programs. ...........................
The 1981 CBS made-for-TV movie We're Fighting Back, featuring Bronx-born Ellen Barkin, was based on the Guardian Angels.
The 1982 Tom Skerrit movie Fighting Back shows newsreel footage of them on one of their patrols.
The 1982 song "Red Angel Dragnet" by The Clash was inspired by the murder of Frank Melvin, and praises the Guardian Angels for their work.
"Footsteps", a short comics story written by British writer Alan Moore and drawn by Joe Orlando for Secret Origins #10, uses a schism in the Guardian Angels (identified in the story as "Subway Angels") as a modern-day metaphor for the War in Heaven. One of the story's protagonists is a young Angel reluctant to side with either the Angels' leadership or the subway "survivalists" looking to subvert the leadership, and is as a result spurned and beaten by both groups. He is subsequently comforted by the Phantom Stranger, whom Moore identifies as a literal angel that neglected to take sides during the "real" War in Heaven.
In season 3 of 21 Jump Street, a group of young vigilantes called the "Street Rangers", try to clean the streets of crime in a tough neighborhood. In that episode, their goal is to bring down an untouchable drug dealer, without knowing about the young undercover cops trying to convict him first. The logo on the uniforms that the Rangers wear is inspired by the Guardian Angels' - instead of wearing red, they wear black.
Professional wrestler Ray Traylor wrestled under the moniker "The Guardian Angel" in WCW from 1993 to 1995 after his character "The Boss" was deemed too similar to his WWF character "The Big Bossman", whom Traylor also portrayed. Traylor wore the trademark red jacket and beret of the organization, as well as their T-shirts when competing. Traylor, a former corrections officer, actually went through Guardian Angel training and was inducted into the Angels as part of the gimmick.
The Guardian Angels are featured in a FirstRun.tv Network (www.FirstRun.tv) reality TV series called Angels in Action. In the first episode, Curtis Sliwa opens the series, and it follows the Philadelphia Guardian Angels spread information about a neighborhood rapist and make a drug bust. Later on, it follows the Guardian Angels in Atlantic City as they investigate a massage parlor they believe is a front for illegal prostitution, and actually find a way to get inside.
A trio of Guardian Angels were background characters in a Marvel Comics "Punisher" story. They were introduced in one panel, before the villain of the sequence (HELP!) murdered them in cold blood, on the subway.
"The Guardian Angel Is Watching Over Us", a tribute to the Guardian Angels, is a soul-funk-disco song recorded in New York in 1979 by the Golden Flamingo Orchestra featuring Margo Williams.
In an episode of Grounded For Life, Eddie tries to defend himself as having been a Guardian Angel, but it's soon revealed that he had simply stolen a red beret in an attempt to impress women.
In the season 3 episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, "Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City", Mac and Dee become vigilantes to fight against the homeless who masturbate in the streets, adopting a uniform with a red beret inspired by the Guardian Angels.
In season 2, episode 10 of In Living Color, Jim Carrey plays a pathetic character who calls himself a Cherub of Justice, a reference to the Guardian Angels.
In season 7, episode 13 of The Office, Dwight runs an organization called "Knights of the Night" which is essentially the same thing as the Guardian Angels (Dwight initially describes it as "nothing like the Guardian Angels," except, when he elaborates, says, "in broad strokes, think the Guardian Angels").
In an episode of the 1982-1983 game show Child's Play, a boy given the task of describing the term "Guardian angel" actually described members of this organization.
Featured in Season 12, Episode 13 of Mysteries at the Museum, "When Twain Met Sawyer and More" which first aired November 3, 2016.