It’s official. Redding has a Guardian Angel.
Sean Rodgers, The Alliance of Guardian Angels West Coast Regional Director, announced Tues., Aug. 16, that the organization will establish a Redding branch.
“We’re going to start the chapter,” he said from his Stockton office. “Our focus is to form a Safety Patrol team.”
The Safety Patrol team is the most well-known feature of the Guardian Angels, which began in 1979, when its founder, Curtis Silwa, started the first patrol with 12 volunteers in New York.
Uniformed, unarmed and trained in self defense, “The Magnificent 13” rode the subways of New York City to provide a visual deterrent to street crime.
Rodgers’ announcement came three days after he and two other Guardian Angels came to Redding on Sat., Aug. 13, to determine the degree to which Redding citizens where interested in creating a local Guardian Angels chapter.
That morning, he made a scheduled appearance in Library Park with Eliazar Aguilar, the Guardian Angels’ northern California coordinator, and a member of the Sutter County chapter in Yuba City, and Manuel Rodriguez, who works with Rodgers in Stockton.
The event drew about 20 people, who sat upon the steps in the shade of the Lorenz Building. During Rodgers’ 90-minute presentation, Aguilar and Rodriguez distributed membership applications.
Rodgers was pleased with the turnout.
“This recruitment meeting was the best I’ve ever experienced,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “I’ve never recruited 17 people in one event before. “We’ll be coming back September 3 to meet with more potential volunteers.”
During a Wednesday follow-up call, Rodgers said he’d placed an order with the New York office for 35 Guardian Angel uniforms specifically for a Redding chapter. Rodgers said he will bring them to the September meeting, where he is confident he will find enough volunteers there to fill them.
“The way things stand now, on the third I’ll have more than enough,” he said of Redding volunteer Guardian Angels, because within three days the number of people who expressed interest in forming a Redding Guardian Angels chapter rose from 216 Saturday to 472 by Wednesday.
He said the Sept. 10 town hall meeting announced in Library Park Saturday is still on schedule, with the time and place to be determined.
If reaction to Rodgers’ presentation convinced the Guardian Angels that Redding could benefit from the presence of the Guardian Angels, the Safety Patrol they performed downtown Saturday afternoon only confirmed the men of the necessity of a Redding Guardian Angels chapter.
Rodgers said he plans to set up an office in downtown Redding, a place he described as looking like a ghost town.
“We thought an office downtown with a Guardian Angel presence could help with that,” he said.
Rodgers said Guardian Angels funding will come from myriad segments of the community.
“We try to get donations from everybody — supporters, businesses — everybody,” Rodgers said. “You try to get donations wherever you can.”
Rodgers told his Library Park audience that the Guardian Angels’ New York office has been receiving emails from Redding citizens about crime in the city for at least a year. He said the Guardian Angels scheduled this meeting in response to local citizens who reached out to the organization through Facebook, many of whom followed a link he posted on the Redding Crime 2.0 page.
And on the blog, Crumbling Town Redding, a recent post celebrated and welcomed Guardian Angels to Redding:
Frustrated and scared, Redding residents have finally come to terms with with what Police Chief Robert “Just Get a Big Dog” Paoletti has been telling us all along: We are on our own.
We wonder how our city and county officials feel after learning that their constituency has become so desperate for salvation, we’ve turned to outsiders for help.
It’s a lot like realizing your own children have reported you to Child Protective Services.
Welcome to our Crumbling Town, Guardian Angels. We need all the help we can get.
Citizens want to help
“We got 216 volunteers showing interest in joining or supporting in some other way,” Rodgers said. “Out of that group, I drew 44 who said they would actually join a Safety Patrol team.”
Rogers said that before he and his fellow Guardian Angels visited the north state, they reached out to to Redding officials in the form of phone calls and emails to inform local law enforcement and city leaders of the Guardian Angels’ intention to hold a recruiting and informational meeting in Library Park.
“We always reach out,” he said Wednesday. “We didn’t want to blindside them through the media.”
Specifically, Rodgers said he sent an email to Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti on Aug. 10, and followed up with a phone call on Aug. 11. While Paoletti did not respond to Guardian Angels’ correspondence, Redding City Manager Kurt Starman replied to Rodgers’ email.
Rodgers said that Starman’s email said, in part, that although the City of Redding would be unlikely to endorse the Guardian Angels, the Redding Police Department would be happy to work with them, as the department does with a wide variety of community groups and organizations.
So far, Rodgers has helped set up four Guardian Angels chapters, including his home chapter in Stockton. He said Redding will make No. 5.
Because of his experience setting up Guardian Angel chapters in other cities, he’s leaned to anticipate myriad citizen reactions.
“Sometimes they’re a little apprehensive, especially about the Safety Patrol,” he said Wednesday. “There are people who are not excited about who we are and what we do.”
Case in point, Rodgers said it look a year to forge good relations with the Stockton Police Department. Now, the Stockton Guardian Angels notify the authorities whenever they go out on Safety Patrol, and like to know the name of the sergeant on duty in case they have to call.
Likewise, Rodgers expects the Guardian Angels will have to build trust in Redding.
“Relationships are not given to you,” he said. “You have to earn them. We have to show them. They’re going to find out we support law enforcement.”
A real life demonstration
During the Library Park meeting, Rodgers called his visit to Redding a first step. He said the subsequent steps all depend upon citizens’ level of commitment to having a Guardian Angels chapter here.
“We came up here to get a feel for the urgency here, to see how many want to form a chapter,” he said to his audience. “We want to know how many will really join a Safety Patrol team.”
He explained that a Safety Patrol is a group of Guardian Angels who walk through town wearing their standard uniforms of black shoes and slacks, logoed white shirts and red beret. He said the idea is to deter criminal activity by their presence.
“Generally, we just bring someone down by talking,” he said. “We speak to people with respect.”
He said Safety Patrol members are trained in martial arts.
“That’s so you can take care of yourselves,” he said. “But the Guardian Angel way of self-defense is going to be different … No weapons at all. We use the least amount of physical force possible.”
Soon, the audience was treated to a spontaneous unplanned demonstration of the Guardian Angels’ methods when a shirtless man in camouflage shorts walked up to Rodgers, interrupted his talk and challenged him.
“Are you a cop?” the man demanded loudly.
Rodgers said he was not.
“Are you going to call the cops?” the man shouted.
Rodgers spoke in a calm, firm voice. “No, I’m just making sure you’re okay,” he said before identifying himself as a Guardian Angel.
The man lowered his voice and said he had heard of the Guardian Angels. Rodgers spoke to the man briefly about the organization, handed him flyer and invited him to listen to the presentation. The man sat down, looked at the flyer, listened for a few minutes, then walked away.
“I am not your answer. We are.”
Rodgers emphasized that it was up to Redding citizens to create and maintain a local chapter. “I want to stress this: I am not your answer. We are,” he said. “We are going to make a difference.”
Rodgers said that after Redding establishes a chapter and puts together a Safety Patrol, the Guardian Angels will provide training and outreach. “We’ve worked with probation, churches, non-profits,” he said. “We network.”
The presentation ended with a short question and answer period. Sherry Barret of Redding asked if the Guardian Angels would walk the area around the Redding Public Library and City Hall while they were in town.
Rodgers said he would prefer to have a few more colleagues with him for that part of town. “From here we’re just going to go through the downtown area,” he said.
Later, Barret said homeless congregate in the whole Parkview Avenue area. “They are very bold,” she said. “They will leap out in front of your car. That’s happened to me.”
Barret said she’s glad to see how the Guardian Angels have matured, and she appreciates their non-militant stance enough that she took home an application to join the organization.
“I’ll read through it and see what I can do,” she said.
Meanwhile, downtown business owner Sue Overholser said she was interested in learning more about the Guardian Angels because she feels unsafe working in her office at Boomerang Travel, where she never knows what she will see at her Sacramento and Market Street business location.
“It’s like a corridor for druggies and homeless,” she said. “They’re always walking up and down the street. They are constantly asking for money.”
Overholser said she is looking forward to seeing Guardian Angels Safety Patrols in town.
“These guys create a presence,” she said. “These are strong, able-bodied people. I’m hoping the criminal element will see them and leave Redding. We need a presence like this.”
Note: This reporter’s requests for comment left with the Redding Police Department and the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office were not answered.
Video from The Fantom Penguin, interview by Joe McGarity.