Expect to see men in red berets and jackets patrolling the streets of downtown Riverhead by the end of next week.
Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter both say the group, which has been patrolling Greenport since December, will begin Riverhead patrols by month’s end.
Sliwa said the group has not yet recruited local members and will initiate patrols with people brought in from out of town, but will begin recruiting as soon as the local patrols begin.
Walter said Sr. Margaret Smyth will help with recruiting, as she did in Greenport, where the Guardian Angels have had no problem signing up new members. Organizers spoke to people following Spanish-language masses at a Greenport church and volunteers were quick to sign up. Sliwa and Walter both said they expect the same reaction in Riverhead.
The supervisor said yesterday he plans to set up a meeting for Sliwa with Riverhead police brass. Sliwa has already met with Walter and Police Chief David Hegermiller, who said he welcomes the Guardian Angels’ presence on Riverhead streets.
“I want to make sure they meet him face to face and get to know directly what he’s about, so that there’s a high level of comfort,” Walter said.
The Guardian Angels have gotten a chilly reception in Southold Town, where the mayor of Greenport and the Southold police chief have not embraced the concept.
But the Riverhead supervisor came forward last month and said he’d welcome the group’s presence in Riverhead. He reached out to Sliwa to set up a meeting and discuss the possibilities. Without naming names, Walter criticized “some officials” who he said “have their heads in the sand” about gang activity on the East End.
After gang-related violence in Southold and Riverhead in October, Sliwa characterized Riverhead as “the epicenter of the street gang activity that plagues the area,” a charge that made Hegermiller bristle.
“He’s wrong,” Hegermiller responded.
“All roads lead back to Riverhead, which has had a longer history of Latino gang activity and serves as a conduit for the gangs all throughout the East End,” Sliwa said in an interview in November.
The county jail in Riverside is a major reason why Latino gangs have put down roots in Riverhead, according to Sliwa.
“There are some 300 gangbangers mixed into the inmate population,” Sliwa told RiverheadLOCAL. So Riverhead is “where many of the Hispanic gangbangers congregate when they visit their homies in jail. While there, they will visit local gang members who live in town. They’ll stop at the restaurants and the bars that are the gangs haunts. On the visit they’ll conduct side business … that will involve weapons and drugs.”
Sliwa has visited Riverhead and toured the downtown since meeting with Walter and Hegermiller in early December.
“Our successful launch of the Guardian Angels in the immigrant community of Greenport has paved the way for the start of our effort in Riverhead,” Sliwa said in an interview last week.
The presence of the patrols has already had positive effects, the leader of the Greenport patrol told SoutholdLOCAL. He cited as an example the disappearance of MS-13 gang members who, he said, had been preying on women and employees at a convenience store in Greenport.
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