Recent Slashings Drive a Veteran Guardian Angel Back to the Subways

A Bronx man's night watch on New York City's subways

Growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s, Milton J. Oliver said he witnessed the chaos and crimes inside the subway system. He saw people getting mugged and women’s purses snatched by burglars on subways.

Talented in the martial arts, Oliver said he decided to join the Guardian Angels, a volunteer group that patrolled the city’s streets and subways, in 1982 to protect people in dangerous situations in the city. From 1979 to the 1990s, the group rose at a time of widespread and violent crimes in New York City and its volunteers conducted citizen’s arrests. It faded out of public’s attention after Curtis Sliwa, founder of the group, issued a public apology in 1992 for several staged rescues to get publicity.

But recently, the increase of subway slashings, the Guardian Angels and Oliver are back in the subway system after 22 years. “We are out there trying to find who these guys are, even try to catch them, keep the subway system safe,” said Oliver.

On a night of a recent patrol, Oliver picked up a lost phone and returned it to the owner; he told a young man that his bag was open. Many people welcomed them back with a thumb up, or a hug, or a greeting. However, some people, especially the younger ones, don’t seem to know who Guardian Angels are. A man shouted out “Mr. Curtis,” the last name of the Guardian Angels’ founder, when he saw Oliver standing on the subway platform.

Oliver said his four children are also Guardian Angels, but because of their current occupation and schoolwork, they don’t do regular patrols. He said his son moved to Connecticut with his family and comes down for the groups’ events while his daughters go on patrols with him during their breaks from college. His goal is to recruit more young people to join the group.

With the latest crime wave, Oliver says he does not see himself retiring any time soon as a Guardian Angel. “A long as I have breath in my lungs and strength in my body, I will go out and do what I have to,” he said.

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