Jan. 2, 2005 – The Guardian Angels are back in town, just in time to assist local law enforcement during festival time. Arnaldo Salinas, senior director, who began the process of installing a local Guardian Angels chapter in St. Croix back in October, along with three of his colleges, will be leading nightly patrols with local recruits. Salinas says local recruits have been training to become certified Guardian Angels and the first graduating class is scheduled for March 2005. Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, is expected to be present at the graduation ceremonies.
Salinas said the group just came from the New Year festivities in Times Square, New York "We were assisting the NYPD in crowd control," Salinas said. "We broke up about 28 fights. Most of the altercations happened because people had too much to drink." But Salinas also said this trip almost didn't happen. "We ran into a glitch with the tickets." Salinas got in touch with his contacts and in a few days he was contacted by Alex Moorhead of Hovensa who sent him four round-trip airline tickets.
Joining Salinas on this trip are three senior members of the organization. Salinas said he handpicked this team to travel to St. Croix because of their diversity and as an example of positive male role models. Salinas said St. Croix is in dire need of positive roles models who can relate to the youth, especially those who are economically disadvantaged and underemployed. (See "Guardian Angels Offer Youth Violence Alternatives"). This is Salinas' third visit to the island. Sand Castles is providing accommodations for the group.
Hiram "Bull" Wiggins is originally from California, now living in Boston. The 6'2' Kung Fu instructor, vegetarian and fitness buff, who sports shoulder length locks, joined the organization while attending junior high school.
Joe "Kane" Crincoli, whose background is Italian and Greek, is the Guardian Angels New Jersey state director. Crincoli says his specialty is "street patrol situations." His teammates say Crincoli has a "radar for trouble." "It comes from years of patrolling mid-town Manhattan," he said.
Frank "Gunny" Lee's was born in Georgia and his family is originally from Thailand. He joined the organization in 1994 and lives in New York City where he serves as the Guardian Angels east coast director. Lee is a former US Marine who did two tours of Somalia. He is a Ju-Jitsu expert specializing in "close quarter combat."
The organization originally came at the request of the St. Croix Anti-Crime Force and once on island embarked on an island-wide recruiting drive. Salinas had numerous meetings with several community action groups, education administrators and government official such as Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, Police Commissioner Elton Lewis and Tourism Commissioner Pamela C. Richards. As a result of the meetings with Lewis, the VIPD officially endorsed and pledged its support and cooperation to the Guardian Angels. (See " Police Commissioner Endorses Guardian Angels Efforts").
Salinas said he is still looking for new recruits. "My goal is 1,000. It's achievable," he said. "I'd like to see a sea of red berets." He will be meeting with local pastors on this visit in the hopes of recruiting more males to the program. Salinas said the Guardian Angels and local recruits would work in cooperation with the police department to patrol festival events. "We expect to have four teams with a total of forty volunteers patrolling the festival village and other events." Salinas said the patrols would be visible during the cruise ship bunkering. "We are assisting in improving the quality of life for everyone on St. Croix," Salinas said. "The goal is economic revitalization." Salinas said it's very important for him and his colleges to "establish a rapport" with the citizens and government. "You can't tackle this problem from the outside; you have to work from the inside out."
Salinas talked about what's ahead for the St. Croix chapter. "We are beginning teacher training in the schools in March," he said. The New York state education department mandates Guardian Angels safe schools curriculum for teachers seeking certification as part of the "Safe Schools Against Violence in Education" act. The program addresses critical issues that threaten safe and effective education. The group has over 400 youth signed up for the Teen Angels program. These youth, ages 12-16 learn self-reliance, leadership skills and civic responsibility while helping to make the school environment a safe place for learning.
The three visitors were impressed with the beauty and peacefulness of St. Croix, and confident their program would make a positive difference to the quality of life for locals and visitors. "It's just like anywhere else," Wiggins said of crime on the island. "When problems come up you have to deal with it so it doesn't get out of hand." Crincoli's face showed a hint of regret as he looked out over the crystal blue water and sandy white beach where he was relaxing before his next meeting. "This place is a best kept secret," he said. "After things have turned around, in five years, the whole world will know about St. Croix it won't be the same."
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