- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The FBI is developing a new task force to battle gang-related crime in the District, while the Guardian Angels, a group of volunteers who focus mostly on safe streets, are now patroling a swath of Northwest that appears to be the epicenter of gangland violence. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey said Tuesday that he welcomes the helping hands, especially since the violence “borders on organized crime.” The intervention by federal authorities is encouraging. However, we are seriously concerned about some of the Guardian Angels’ tactics.

The director of the Guardian Angels’ D.C. chapter has said the new anti-gang patrols will hit the streets of Columbia Heights and its nearby neighborhoods, which have been struck with gang violence. One gang — Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 — is arguably the most violent in our region, with its members carrying out murders, assaults, drug trafficking and car thefts. The upsurge in such violence forced Chief Ramsey to become more resourceful (hence, more federal involvement). The chief also put more of his officers in those troubled neighborhoods, and he and U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard continue to work closely on anti-organized crime efforts. Additional eyes and ears are welcome, since, as Chief Ramsey said, “We’ve got to do everything we can” to make the streets safer.

The Guardian Angels patrols were arranged by D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who was “exasperated” by the growing violence in his legislative district. All of the additional eyes and ears are welcome, since, as Chief Ramsey said, “We’ve got to do everything we can” to make the streets safer. But, when the Guardian Angels say they plan to destroy drugs found on suspects, we see cause for alarm.

Guardian Angels propose to carry out citizen’s arrests — detaining suspects until police arrive. The tactic should not be a problem, so long as Guardian Angels do not break the law themselves. Yet, that is precisely where our concern comes in. John Ayala, director of the D.C. chapter, told The Washington Post that if drugs are found on a suspect, Angels “will force the suspect to destroy them.”

It is up to Chief Ramsey to make certain that does not happen. Drugs found on any suspect are evidence, whether the suspect is apprehended by a sworn law-enforcement officer or by a citizen, and those drugs must be handed over to the proper authorities.

Helping suspects slip dope into a sewer does not help bust crime; it aids and abets the very criminals everyone wants swept off the streets of Washington. The chief needs to sit down and explain the law to the Angels now, before they lead to new problems down the road.

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