Q-Patrol Earns Respect For Safety Efforts -- Team Helps Reduce Crime Rates On Capitol Hill

It's Friday night on Capitol Hill, and Broadway has drawn the usual throngs. Parking lots become hangouts, doorways draw crowds and caravans of cars inch up and down the main drag.

Julia D'Annunzio, an athletic 22-year-old, leads her group through the crowd. Dressed in black berets, baggy pants and white T-shirts with large cobalt Q's, D'Annunzio and her comrades are a familiar sight on Broadway.

"God bless you guys, man," a pedestrian says as the group moves by.

Such support is in striking contrast to the Q-Safety Patrol's formative days, when the first patrols marched into a barrage of criticism, gay-baiting and misunderstanding.

"Our first few years we were challenged by every group that thought they owned this neighborhood," said Alex Cleghorn, 23, the founder of Q-Patrol.

Passers-by shouted anti-gay epithets, and early on Cleghorn was taken to the hospital after the patrol intervened in an assault. Two cars drove up and, instead of helping to break it up, the men got out and started kicking Cleghorn.

Back in 1991, police feared that the group, created in response to repeated gay-bashing incidents in Seattle, would turn into a band of roving vigilantes. That the primarily gay and lesbian volunteers were trained by the controversial Guardian Angels didn't help.

"The fear at first, among other things, was that they were going to be a vigilante group or that they were going to encroach on our turf, do our job," said Lt. Jim Pugel of the East Precinct's community policing team. "To the best of my knowledge, they never have."

More than five years later, Q-Safety Patrol has earned a reputation quite different from the fears of early days: They're disciplined. They're effective. And they're here to stay.

Pugel and others give the patrol partial credit for helping to reduce crime rates on Capitol Hill. Between 1993 and 1995, reported bias or hate crimes plummeted citywide, from 132 to 41. And while the entire city saw a decline in violent crimes in the last couple of years, the drop on Capitol Hill has been sharper. Between 1993 and 1995, violent crime fell 41 percent on Capitol Hill compared with 34 percent citywide.

The patrol has been involved in some high-profile arrests that boosted their standing with the police.

One night, for example, the Q-Patrol was called to a gay bar on East Pike Street to help with a man who was harassing customers. The patrollers helped to eject the man from the club, then followed him down the street, trying to calm him down until the police arrived. When police took him in, they found he was wanted for murder in another state.

It's an event both Pugel and Cleghorn describe as one turning point in relations between the police and the patrol.

Expanding beyond Capitol Hill

Q-Patrol's success on Capitol Hill has prompted other neighborhoods to ask the group for help. Patrols now operate in Pioneer Square and the University District. Even other cities, from Vancouver, B.C., to San Francisco, are looking to Seattle for what has become a model of community patrolling.

The Q-Patrol is out at least six days a week, from 11 a.m. to as late as 3:30 a.m. on weekends. The staff - all unpaid - has grown to six full-timers and about 30 part-timers, mostly in their 20s. The part-timers include lawyers and students, a scientist and a computer programmer. About one quarter of the patrollers are heterosexual.

"The ability of Q-Patrol to absorb people of different backgrounds, different cultures, different lifestyles, is very different than anything I've come across," said Curtis Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels in New York City in 1979.

Help for Guardian Angels, too

A couple of years ago, Sliwa asked Q-Patrol to take over the Seattle chapter of the Guardian Angels, which had lapsed into inactivity.

Cleghorn complied.

Outside of Capitol Hill, the patrols wear a mixture of Q-Patrol and the more broadly recognized Guardian Angels uniform. Scarlet berets and jackets with the angel-wings logo are next to Q-Patrol's black and gray in the group's joint headquarters.

The Q-Patrol relies primarily on money it collects on the street to meet monthly expenses.

The organization's Saturday fund raising, which entails standing on the streets with collection buckets, has drawn some criticism.

"I hear complaints from citizens that they're basically panhandlers," said Sarah Hawthorne, the manager of Noah's New York Bagels' Broadway store and a supporter of the Q-Patrol.

Cleghorn says they need that money to keep the patrols running.

Retired Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, who joined the patrol's board of directors earlier this year, said she hopes to help the group reach greater financial stability.

Cammermeyer, the Washington State National Guard nurse who was discharged for being a lesbian in 1992, then reinstated two years later after a court battle, met Cleghorn at a gay event. After joining Q-Patrol for a training session and a patrol, Cammermeyer signed on.

"It was better training than many people would get in the military," she said. "Because, instead of focusing on beating your hands against your chest and playing warrior, it was more about how to de-escalate."

They don't ask, `Are you gay?'

For many in the gay community, the patrol is a source of pride, and wearing the "Q" is part of that.

"A lot of what I see the uniform as about and the patrolling as about is empowerment in the gay community," said Leslie Fleming, a part-time volunteer. "We can take care of ourselves."

But their mission has always been to stop not only gay bashing but all violent crime. As Cleghorn says, if they see someone getting beaten up, patrollers don't stop and ask, "Are you gay?"

They act as a highly visible deterrent, and on quiet nights they perform such services as checking the doors on closed businesses to make sure they're locked.

"It's our own little security system beyond what the Seattle Police has been doing," said JoAnn Panayiotou, the owner of the Wild Rose Tavern, a lesbian bar on East Pike Street.

Recently, the Broadway Market Management Fund contributed $2,000 to the patrol to buy bicycles, and many businesses give patrollers free food.

"They're such a strong presence," Hawthorne said. "They're definitely community-builders here."