Straphangers' ally irks New York subway police

In the New York subways, where it is said that crime stalks, some people have been stalking crime for about a year now. The problem is, the police don't seem to want the crime-stalkers' help.

Earlier this week, four members of a group of red beret- wearing, self-styled vigilantes who call themselves the Guardian Angels helped a transit patrolman make an arrest. This time, the vigilantes won praise from the patrolman.

But tensions between transit police and the group -- said to number about 500 men in their late teens and early 20s -- have been building. An investigation has been opened into charges that transit policemen, or persons posing as such, kidnapped the Angels' leader and threatened his family. The Transit Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (TPBA) denies any involvement in the incident.

The cause of the friction between police and the Angels, who claim to have made 88 citizen arrests so far, appears to be "turf." The transit police, it is claimed, regard the Angels as ill-equipped to deal with subway crime and as putting themselves in danger.

The New York Transit Authority has offered to take the Angels under its wing as a kind of auxiliary police if they agree to direct supervision and undergo proper training.

But the TPBA says what it really needs is more patrolmen. Because of deep budget cuts there are 1,000 fewer police in the city's 460 subway stations and riding trains on its hundreds of miles of track than there were in 1975.

For their part, the Angeles maintain that becoming an auxiliary of the transit police force would restrict their effectiveness and cause many members to quit.

"They don't want to be under any control," complains TPBA spokesman Jim Groark. "But they can be injured, and the people they try to help can also be injured.

Meanwhile, public awareness of the issue seems to have heightened, and at least some subway straphangers are siding with the red berets. Said one: "I think the Angels are doing a better job than the police. And the police are giving them a hard time when what they ought to do is help them."

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