Guardian Angels Patrol Downtown Redding; A North State Chapter is Born

Rodgers briefs Guardian Angels pitching in from four California chapters before safety patrol in Redding Friday.

Before the group’s Friday safety patrol, Sean Rodgers briefs Guardian Angels who collectively represent four California chapters.

True to their promise, the Alliance of Guardian Angels returned to the north state over the weekend to begin safety patrols on the streets of downtown Redding.

The group came, they saw, they walked, they talked with all kinds of people, from downtown pedestrians to Library Park transients. The Guardian Angels got a feel for Redding, where, at least for this weekend, things were relatively quiet, and there were no confrontations or problems.

By Saturday, the Shasta County Guardian Angels group was founded, complete with administration and volunteers and a goal for the local chapter to be operational within three months.

The New York-based crime-prevention group first arrived in Redding last month after being invited via Facebook by citizens, fed up with feeling apprehensive and unsafe in their hometown.

On safety patrol in downtown Redding

The group’s weekend patrols included two sessions. The first began at 10 p.m. Friday. The second resumed Saturday morning.

Friday evening’s patrols were conducted by a team of 10 Guardian Angels, dressed identically in white shirts with red Guardian Angel logos, red berets and dark pants. The operation began about 9 p.m. at the Pine Street Safeway, where the members paired off as partners, who took turns frisking each other, which Rodgers said is part of the pre-patrol inspection to ensure that none of the Guardian Angels have weapons.

To ensure no Guardian Angels carry any weapons on patrol, partners frisk each other before setting off from Safeway.

Partners frisk each other to check for weapons before setting off from Safeway.

Just short of the Guardian Angels turnaround point at Walgreen’s Friday night, Sean Rodgers, the group’s leader, joked he was getting bored, because everything was so quiet. He said Redding had its problems, mostly because of its deserted downtown area, which looked to him “like a ghost town.”

He compared Redding to Stockton, where he lives, where he said there are drive-by shootings and daily strong-arm robberies.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he said as the team neared Eureka Way. “Redding’s not that bad.”

Throughout the more than two-hour safety patrol, the Guardian Angels witnessed no incidents of violence. They made no interventions. Not one team member made any physical contact with the public, except for handshakes and one hug. There were, however, lots of smiles and words of appreciation from citizens.

The team marched up Market Street in two rows, side by side with their partners. Eliazar Aguilar, Guardian Angels Northern California coordinator, and Manuel Rodriguez of Stockton, partnered as team leaders.

Safety Patrol partners Leonard Hill and Clifford Benet form up on the corner of East and Cypress.

Safety Patrol partners Leonard Hill and Clifford Benet stand on the corner of East Street and Cypress Avenue.

Behind them marched five more out-of-town Guardian Angels: partners Aleta Lockwood and Debra Bourquin-Lovava of the Sutter County chapter, and partners David Lambert of Modesto and Cody Sass of Stockton.

Robert Cortese of San Jose marched alongside Rodgers, paired as the team tail. Locals Hill and Benet rounded up the 10.

Their route took them up Gold Street to California Street, up Tehama Street to Court Street, with a rest at the Walgreen’s near Court Street and Eureka Way. They chose the Chevron station just west of Rite Aid for their turnaround, having heard of problems reported by workers there.

On this night, all was well.

As they patrolled, Aguilar aimed a flashlight into dark fields, and into dark spaces between buildings.

There were a few contacts with people in the first sweep through the mostly empty streets between Safeway and Walgreen’s, but while taking a break outside the drug store, the Guardian Angels cleared the darkened Rite Aid parking lot across the street without taking a step.

“Three o’clock,” Rodriguez said, relaying the direction his teammates should look. In the distance, five shadowy figures drifted across the lot, fading westward away from the team.

Rodriguez said he counted eight people before he called it. The lot cleared within one minute. “From just our presence alone,” he said.

The group demonstrated non-confrontational communication when they encountered “people of interest” during their patrols. Typically, one Guardian Angel would greet the person in a relaxed non-threatening way, and ask questions like, “How are you? ” or “Are you OK?”

Meanwhile, the other members would be on standby, on alert, covering their fellow Guardian Angel.

That’s how it went throughout the evening. Sometimes, if people looked perplexed, Rodgers would say, “We are Guardian Angels. We want you to be safe.”

Redding’s impression of the Guardian Angels

By the time the team members reached Walgreen’s, they had already seen some evidence that Redding’s citizens didn’t just tolerate the Guardian Angels, but they welcomed their presence.

As the team passed Shameless O’Leary’s restaurant, a waitress on break wrapped Aguilar in a hug of thanks. While they waited with civilians for the light at Placer Street, people greeted the Guardian Angels with smiles and handshakes.

Nicole Miracle, cocktail waitress at Shameless O'Leary's, expresses to Aguilar her delight over Guardian Angels presence in Redding.

Nicole Miracle, who works at Shameless O’Leary’s restaurant, expresses to Aguilar her appreciation for the Guardian Angels’ presence in Redding.

As the evening wore on, Rodgers bypassed Library Park. “I’m saving it for last,” he said.

In contrast to empty downtown streets, Highway 299 was full of traffic. Some drivers honked and cheered at the Guardian Angels.

A Redding Police cruiser drove by, and as it did, the officer extended his arm in a wave. Not far down Court Street, a second Redding police officer also waved to the group from his car.

Finally, the Guardian Angels resumed their march downtown to Library Park at Yuba Street, the area Rodgers had saved for last.

Library Park, Busy Night and Day

The Guardian Angels announced themselves to about a dozen people in and near Library Park, but the group found no one who posed an immediate threat to public safety. Even so, Rodgers made a point to stay in the area for about 45 minutes, during which time the patrol conducted two sweeps of the park.

Safety Patrol leader Eliazar Aguilar examines signs of recent drug use in Library Park.

Safety Patrol leader Eliazar Aguilar examines signs of recent drug use in Library Park.

Guardian Angel members encountered one moment of potentially aggressive behavior.

As the patrol circled the Lorenz Building, they approached a group of three people for a second time. A man took a one-step lunge at Rodriguez, who retreated with one step back. The man shouted that the patrol had come straight at him.

Rodriguez spoke calmly, and changed the subject to the man’s lunge. The man dropped all hostility and apologized.

Some people fled the presence of the Guardian Angels, including a couple who’d been in a corner near the entrance of the Greek Orthodox Church near Deja Vu restaurant. They pair left behind a syringe cap and a small, empty plastic bag.

Guardian Angels Lambert, Sass and Cortese watching over Library Park.

Guardian Angels watch over Library Park.

But in the Library Park vicinity, most of people the Guardian Angels approached were unmoved, such as a man who’d been part of a group behind a wall near the post office’s front door, and a woman with a trio across the street near the tracks, one of whom expressed support for the Guardian Angels.

The man raised his fist. “I’m with you,” he said.

Still, that group of street people remained where the Guardian Angels found them. When Aguilar took a more direct approach and asked a woman if she would rather go somewhere else, she replied, “Yeah? Go where?”

It was past 11 p.m. when the Guardian Angels regrouped one last time for an uneventful march back to Safeway on Pine Street and Cypress Avenue.

The patrols were over, but Rodgers was reluctant to leave. Rodgers said he wished he could have stayed a few hours longer, to establish a greater presence in downtown Redding.

The Morning After

The out-of-town Guardian Angels wrapped up their Redding visit with a Saturday morning meeting attended by about 50 people at the Veterans Memorial Hall on Yuba Street, an area that is a frequent hangout for street people and transients. About half the people at the meeting wore Guardian Angels T-shirts.

Sean Rodgers, standing right, introduces Shasta County Guardian Angels safety patrol leaders Clifford Benet and Leonard Hill.

Shasta County Guardian Angels safety patrol leaders – from left,  Clifford Benet, Leonard Hill and Sean Rodgers – introduce themselves to the group.

Leonard Hill, who said he moved to Redding about a  year ago so his wife could be closer to her family, said he was with the Chicago Guardian Angels chapter about 20 years ago. Hill said he also worked with Guardian Angels chapters in New York and Salt Lake City.

Clifford Benet, also of Redding said he joined the Guardian Angels in the mid- to late 1980’s, which included being part of what he referred to as “the Rodney King patrols,” a response to the 1992 riots triggered after a a jury acquitted police officers charged with beating King.

He said his current involvement with the Guardian Angels is because he cares about the community.

Sean Rodgers, the Guardians Angels’ west coast regional director, emceed the event. He introduced Guardian Angels who’d traveled to Redding from four different California chapters, members who volunteered at the Friday night’s safety patrol. The audience applauded when Rodgers announced the just-formed Shasta County Guardian Angels chapter, and its leaders. Daniel Meyer of Redding is the Shasta County Guardian Angels’ chapter leader, and Eli Gonzalez, owner of Premier Martial Arts in Shasta Lake, will be the lead trainer.

Meyer, who is a newcomer to the Guardian Angels, said to effectively lead the new Redding chapter he will draw from his 20-plus years of military experience. Meyer said his job will be to coordinate the trainers and the patrol leaders, but added that there are all kinds of jobs for all kinds people who want to help.

“We have some people in administrative roles, and other people who want to help us anonymously,” Meyer said.

He said development of the safety patrol will follow the guidelines of the Guardian Angels manual, and he expects the team to be fully trained and operational within 90 days.

“This is a joint effort”

During a short question-and-answer period, Rodgers addressed about a half dozen public concerns. When asked about a reported decline in the numbers of Guardian Angels in Portland, Rodgers said that team numbers normally go up and down due to shifting priorities in people’s lives, and sometimes because of leadership problems.

“It’s a lot of work to keep a chapter going,” he said. “If you don’t have the leadership, it kind of falls apart.”

Two audience members wanted to know about the safety patrol schedule, whether it could accommodate night workers, or guard shopping malls during the day. Rodgers said the patrol schedule can be fixed or moved around, depending upon local needs.

One person in the audience wondered how the Guardian Angels would handle someone committing a crime. Rodgers explained that the first thing Guardian Angels do when they encounter a crime in progress is to call the police. If the situation is urgent, such as an assault, the patrol leaders will assess and intervene in a way of least possible risk to the team.

Someone else in the audience requested neighborhood patrols, to which Rodgers said, “We want you to stand up and fight back against crime. Sorry, Guardian Angels can’t do everything for everyone. This is a joint effort.”

However, Rodgers said Guardian Angels will visit a troubled neighborhood and advise the residents how to deal with problem situations. He encouraged citizens to resist calling the police for every petty crime.

But Dale Ball of Redding had a different viewpoint, and suggested residents report all incidents.

“If you’re not reporting the crimes, then when numbers come out the city’s going to go, ‘It’s not that bad, we don’t need more officers,’ ” Ball said.

Dale Ball calls for citizens to report all crimes so that city leaders will know the true crime rate in Redding.

Dale Ball calls for citizens to report all crimes so city leaders will know have an accurate idea of Redding’s true crime rate.

Jeff Moore of Redding asked for Rodgers’ assessment of the city’s problems.

“I understand 10 of you patrolled Redding last night, on what would be a typical Friday night in Redding,” Moore said, He asked for Rodgers’ impression.

Rodgers smiled. “It was good.”

Richard DuPertuis

Richard DuPertuis has written in Redding for a few years now. During his 12 years in Dunsmuir, his stories and photographs appeared in Siskiyou and Shasta County newspapers. He can be reached on Facebook.

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