There is a lot the public can do to help police fight crime.

Members of a community often know better than law enforcement who belongs on their street and who doesn’t, and they are much more likely to be at the scene of a fight or break-in than a police officer.

Well-organized neighborhood watch organizations, like the one in Portland’s North Deering area, keep everyone safer.

But it’s possible for these efforts to go too far, and there is more than a little cause for concern with some of the rhetoric surrounding the creation of a new Guardian Angels chapter in Portland.

The organization, known for its members’ distinctive red berets, is kind of a neighborhood watch with attitude.

Started in New York City in 1979, the Guardian Angels and their publicity-loving founder, Curtis Sliwa, found a way to capture the crime-ridden city’s attention with bold statements that verged on a call to vigilantism.

Sliwa still leads the group, and plans to come to Portland later this month to drum up members for his local chapter. He made some typically provocative statements in a recent news story. The Angles don’t just “watch” for crime, he explained. “We do physical interventions, which means if you’re patrolling in the Old Port, you’ll be breaking up a lot of fights and disputes,” he said. When a member sees a crime, Sliwa said, he will exercise his right to make a citizen arrest and hold the perpetrator until the police arrive.

How much of that is really likely to happen and how much is Sliwa’s self- promotion is unclear. But it sounds like these crime fighters could create problems as bad as the ones they are claiming to solve.

What’s more, patrols of red beret-wearing Guardian Angels send the wrong message. Rather than making people feel safer, they could see the group as evidence that there is so much street crime, extraordinary measures like this are called for.

Portland has its problems with crime, but this is not a city that is out of control. While the police would welcome help from the public in keeping them informed, they don’t need amateurs acting as if they were police officers. Portland residents can find a better way to help make their city safer.