By William Brierley
BBC News website
Conceived in New York, the Guardian Angels' unique brand of law enforcement never really caught on among London's reserved commuters and volunteer numbers have dwindled. But will the London bombings help finally endear them to us?
Sedleigh "Shaft" Adams signals his red-bereted patrol to move on to the Tube. Once in position he scans the carriage until, eventually, he catches a mistimed glance.
"Never smile at a Guardian Angel," he says. "That means you have a pulse, and if you have a pulse then you get a leaflet."
Sweeping through the carriage he then hands out leaflets to the bemused commuters headed: "SOMEBODY REALLY SHOULD DO SOMETHING ABOUT VIOLENT STREET CRIME!!"
The Guardian Angels (GAs) have become a familiar part of urban folklore since being founded in New York in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa. A McDonald's night manager in a crime-infested part of the Bronx, Sliwa decided to form his own street patrol.
From a voluntary, unarmed band of 13 men grew a 1980's phenomenon, with chapters now patrolling streets across the world in the spirit of their motto "Dare to Care".
But the London chapter, founded in 1989, has fallen on hard times. It is now kept alive by just 12 volunteers on a shoe-string budget, making it difficult to train new recruits and promote experienced members.
Patrick "Dreadzone" MacRodain has been a GA since 1998 and is one of the London chapter's most experienced members.
"I should have three chevrons on there," he says, sounding slightly disappointed as he points to his red beret.
He credits the organisation with helping transform a life spent in and out of custody as one of the "bad boys of Hackney". MacRodain joined up after the GAs intervened as he tried to help a man being attacked in King's Cross in 1996.
"My life turned around after that," he says. "The Angels said to me it's all about having the right attitude, and since then I must have because I've stayed out of trouble and I'm up for promotion to patrol leader."
Nowadays, he dons his beret to escort pensioners on their way to paying their rent and also plans to speak at schools to encourage children to avoid the traps he fell into.
Everywhere they go the patrol is well received by London Underground staff and an intrigued public, albeit at times with thinly-concealed amusement.
"I think they're mental," comments one passer-by. "I grew up in New York in the 80s and haven't really thought about them since then."
In Shoreditch - a fault-line between the opulent City and some of London's most deprived areas - licensee Jonathan Moberly welcomes the GAs patrolling outside his busy bar.
"It's all good having them around," he says. "With the new licensing laws and security threats we're in danger of becoming both under-policed and over-policed at the same time."
Mr Moberly believes the GAs have the potential to fill a gap in community policing.
"How do you control problems? You talk to people and treat them like people. That's what the Angels represent, their message is let's not get too uptight about it and bring it back down to the ground," he says.
But the boys in berets have a less harmonious relationship with the police, who resolutely refuse to recognise the organisation. After the 7 July bombings in London Adams admits they had to consider whether they were a "help or a hindrance" during heightened security.
However, he says the public greeted their patrols with a "heightened response" and were "increasingly pleased to see us".
At ground level, though, it rather seems as if the GAs have had the rug pulled from under their feet. Asbos, council-run street warden schemes, community support officers - all have sprung up since they arrived in London 16 years ago.
Adams denies such measures have made his team an irrelevance.
"There is a distrust of authority that means that the CSOs' police-style approach can't get close to communities, especially ethnic minorities that traditionally have a poor relationship with the police," he says.
"It's like the difference between classical and rap music. Kids don't want to hear classical, they want to hear rap. So you use rap music to draw their attention.
"When I look at what's called the yob culture, those kids have got so much street skill. If you can harness these skills then the kids can make something of themselves.
"But if the Metropolitan Police force can't manage that on a multi-million pound budget then we don't have a chance... or do we?"
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
Anything to deter crime is a help, as long as the GAs know not to interfere with official police duties.
A friend's car was vandalised yesterday costing these hardworking people money they really can't afford to lose.
I wish the angels were in Plymouth, then perhaps the villains would have reconsidered.
The Guardian Angels would be more acceptable if they didn't look like, Hells Angels with attitude. Good intentions can not on its own going to stop the Underground Transport criminals and I doubt if people dressed like film extras will go a long way to alleviate commuter stress whatever their intentions.
Eddie Espie, Cookstown
I must admit to feeling ever so sad by the news that the London GA were so small in number. I think that anyone who is prepared to look out for fellow members of the public are an asset and our country would be worse off without a public sense of duty and responsibility to one another. Perhaps they should subdue their uniform and ditch the berets in an attempt to attract more members and fit in with the English way - we have never really been overly bothered about flashy uniforms in this country after all.
Here are individuals who have taken one step further than most us by willing to do something in the fight against street crime and anti-social behaviour. They should be encouraged, and further more, recognised in their efforts. Britain needs more people like this!
Robert Firth, Aylesbury, UK
Community support wardens, ASBOs and the rest seem to be about control. GAs seem to be a bit more about empowerment.
Simon Mallett, UK Maidstone
We've already got a way for volunteers to help make the UK safer and better... they can join the police as special constables. Then they can help society, within the framework of the law.
They are only there to do good so let them carry on. Why the police have a problem with citizens trying to help is bewildering to me. Increasingly in our society we turn away from people in need of help. Recently a man was stabbed and killed on bus for protecting his wife from teenage thugs, no one helped him or came forward as a witness...disgusting! If the GAs had been on that bus it probably would not have happened and a man's life would have been spared. We should not mock people who are essentially putting themselves at risk to help protect us and make us feel safer in an ever increasingly lawless society. We do not have enough police, the courts are no deterrent these days. Any help we can get to bring order back into our society should be gratefully recieved... not criticised and sniggered at. Hail the GAs. Long may they survive...we should pay them.
Stewart, Newport s. Wales
As a member of the TA's I think that the GAs are a good idea, its a shame more people don't do it. The more visible deterrents there are the better. Every City has its violent side, not just London, I'm surprised more places haven't got them e.g. Manchester. Well done mateys, keep it going!
Chris P, Mansfield
Good on you guys I travelled on the trains and thought it was great to have people like you it feels a lot safer keep it up
These guys deserve a chance. Surely any initiative to help provide security and reduce crime needs encouragement and support. their presence can only help to enhance the policing of our streets, Trains and other public transport re-assuring passenger and supporting the police, who themselves are under-funded and over-stretched. Give these people the same training and qualifications that door security and other community police forces have, and lets see some real encouragement and support. The job they do can be a real asset to the people in the communities they serve, and encourage more people to join
David Lewarne, Ferryhill, Durham
Leave the policing to the professionals - if you want to help, grow up and join the Specials or become a CSO.
Peter, Telford, UK
In the 16 years of them being in the UK I have seen one once, several years ago and I commute through London regularly. What is the point if they are not really protecting anyone?
Karl Mugele, St Albans
The Guardian angels are a brave, unselfish organization. Having worked for the govt, I am not surprised by the arrogant response from the Metropolitan police. Given the time and resources they waste, I am sure they are indeed envious of the commitment of the GA members. I an struggling to remember the last time a police officer in my presence did or said anything clear or helpful. Good on you Guardian Angels. I will gladly offer my services a support worker.
Robert Porter, London
God Bless the GA, they are (still) doing a marvellous job (considering they are doing this as volunteers). Someone, somewhere give these guys some kind of funding. They are doing the job that the police won't (or cant) do.
John Freeman, Bury St Edmunds, England
The most outrageously comedic security force that has ever stepped on this side of Christendom, how they will prevent another 7th of July, God knows....they certainly add comedy value to public transport
John, Brighton, Sussex
The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.