“If we want to live in a safe community, free from crime, we each must get some skin in the game.”
-Andy “Chieftain” Cawston
Every once in a while, the right Idea is in the right place at the right time. When this happens, the idea has a chance to become real. But only if somebody is willing to take the idea and run with it. And run really hard.
For Andy Cawston, that Idea happened in October 2004, when it became apparent to him that New Zealand was changing. Fast. And he didn’t like the changes he saw: crime appeared to be on the increase, the sorts of crimes that he had seen happening in North America, where he was born. Street crimes. Crimes of violence. Property crimes. And they were happening to people that he knew, too close to home.
New Zealand seemed to be Hell-bent on importing these bad ideas at an alarming rate, and for no good reason that Andy could see. Starting with smalltime, punk stuff like tagging, then vandalism, then burglary, then robbery. Then street crime.... everything following a cycle that was all too predictable. Drug labs moving into nearby neighborhoods was the final straw. He was going to phone the mayor, but he made a profound discovery about himself instead: you see, Andy realized he was a part of the problem!
Crime was happening in his community because people like Andy allowed it to happen. The police were doing the best job they could to keep crime down. So was the mayor. So was the Prime Minister. And so were the social agencies in his community. The people who were letting the side down were average citizens. Ordinary people like Andy, expecting everyone else to fix all the problems for him.
Sometimes a North American problem requires a North American solution. And so it was that Andy phoned the legendary Guardian Angels of New York City instead.
This is a New Zealand success story. And like so many New Zealand success stories, this one starts off really small. With an idea.
Strangely, most of “the experts” insisted that crime was actually on the decrease in New Zealand, and that everyone had never been safer, for many decades.
But Andy knew better. Even if “the experts” were right – and Andy didn’t believe that for one moment – it just didn’t matter. If people don’t feel safe, then they aren’t really SAFE. Everybody has the right to feel safe. “The crime rate has been dropping for years? Yeah, right.
It is one thing to find the problem, and a whole ‘nuther ballgame to fix it. The Guardian Angels of New York City would be only too happy to help Andy – except there were no Guardian Angels anywhere near New Zealand to provide his training and to help him set up a Chapter in New Zealand. It had never been done here before.
And there as a training manual to learn – “The Manual” – all five-hundred-and-fifty pages of it. Off by heart. Everything about everything about setting up a Guardian Angels chapter was in the manual, and Andy needed to know all of it.
And there was a community to convince, and to involve. They had every right to be skeptical: those he could persuade and co-opt would become valuable allies in a support network that he would need to build from-the-ground-up. The news media, too:: they could either help make the idea fly, or they could kill it stone dead. Their job was to tell the story: if it was going to be a good story, a lot of hard work would need to be done. Nothing could be left to chance. Everything needed to be planned and executed exactly like a large-scale sales campaign: the sort of thing that Andy, as a salesman, did every day for a living.
The Guardian Angels of New York City couldn’t help out in person, but Curtis Sliwa did the next best thing by assigning two of their most experienced Guardian Angels to help Andy get the job done. Ed “Shish-Kebob” Park of Reno NV and Michael “Kiwi” McDaniel of Portland OR invested hundreds of hours of their own personal time, each, on The Project – Andy’s Project – to help out strangers in a foreign country that they had never met to live in safer communities free from crime. By January 2006 it was all set to go.
“The New Zealand Originals”
“Chieftain” launched the first Guardian Angels Chapter in New Zealand’s history, in Henderson, Auckland. Their first Patrol took place on 6 January 2006 and encompassed the business district surrounding Great North Road through to the West Wave Aquatic Center.
Three new recruits attended this first patrol with “Chieftain”: Simon “BatBob” Jones, Jonathan “Alex” Otia and Sei “Ace” Apia. They were joined by Councilor Assid Corban as a gesture of support from a local elected representative.
This group of four Guardian Angels – “Chieftain”, “BatBob”, “Alex” and “Ace” – became known as “The New Zealand Originals. And from that moment on, Andy’s Project ceased to be. The “I” and “me” became the “us” and “we”, and we became the New Zealand Guardian Angels – the first in our Nation’s history.
Convincing people was never going to be easy: The Originals knew that. And there were plenty of detractors. Many of them had good reason to hope that the Guardian Angels failed. But some detractors really ought to have known better. But, while their opposition was disappointing The Originals didn’t let that get in the way. Stopping crime is always the right thing to do. So this makes the courage of those who supported The Originals – in the beginning – even more courageous. Standing beside The Originals in the photo is an elderly Counselor Assid Corban. Once the Mayor of Waitakere City, Councilor Corban’s distinguished service to the community has long been a matter of record. Having his photo taken with The Originals to commemorate their first Patrol took guts. Lending his support and credibility to our young organization wasn’t a politically safe thing to do, yet he chose to do so in a very public, generous way. But it isn’t at all surprising, for those who know Counselor Corban. That’s the kind of man he is.
Growth, in any organization, is a key to survival: without it the organization will eventually stagnate, then shrink, and then disappear. So it was important for the world’s newest Guardian Angels organization to grow.
After a few false starts, a major milestone was reached when “Chieftain” received an inquiry from the Auckland-based European Martial Arts club, The Argent Lords. Trained in all aspects of defending against bladed weapons attack, the members of this club had expressed a wish to train to become a patrolling Guardian Angels Chapter, en masse.
The club’s leader, Anna Cruse, and members Eamonn Zink, Benjamin Burrowes, Nora Czaykowski, and Louise Kinnell, met with “Chieftain” and “BatBob” at the Britomart Starbucks in the Auckland CBD on 15 September 2006. For the next year The Originals trained this group of Volunteers in Guardian Angels fieldcraft.
It had always been the intention for the New Zealand Guardian Angels to operate as an egalitarian organization, where every member is equal to all other members – irrespective of the role that they played in the organization. The inclusion of three female members into the group brought certain practical matters to a head: how do we, in word, thought, and practice, include everybody as equals? Nobody was at all keen to adopt Politically-Correct language because in many ways doing so would create and acknowledge differences that the group was keen to ignore.
Tokenism has no place or meaning in the mean streets: indulging in tokenism is a dangerous luxury that the team could illl afford. Equality means precisely that: everybody bleeds red – men, women, abled, disabled, gay, straight, Maori, Pakeha, young, old – everybody. All are equal and all must be treated equally in every practical way. Therefore, a decision was taken to refer to all members of the group – whether male or female – as “Lads.” Doing so reinforces the notion that all Guardian Angels are equal. In language and in deed, we shall not differentiate between any of our members in any way.
Anna joined our group with a serious back injury, and completed much of her training on crutches. She went on to become New Zealand’s first female Guardian Angels Chapter Leader – one of the very few in the world – and the entire group of European Martial Artists that began with her graduated together a year later with no “drop-outs” – an accomplishment that is almost unprecedented.
Our International debut
In September 2006 Andy was invited to attend the Guardian Angels World Conference in Honolulu. This was the first time the New Zealand Guardian Angels had sent a representative, and the first time New Zealand colors were ever worn in an international setting. On this occasion the New Zealand standard was presented to Ricardo “Chico” Garcia, Hawaii Chapter Leader, in recognition of this milestone for the New Zealand organization. Here also Andy met with Curtis for the first time face-to-face. At their meeting, New Zealand’s plans for the Guardian Angels were discussed, and strategies were developed.
The 2006 Honolulu Conference was also the place where valuable international relationships were developed between the New Zealand organization and South Africa’s – which enjoys the distinction of being one of the most dangerous places patrolled by the Guardian Angels organization. One of the practical outcomes of this relationship has been the “Street Survival Guide” being made available to our New Zealand organization – it’s an excellent written and produced by the South Africa National Director, Charl “Morpheus” Viljoen, who is also a Cape Town police officer.
One of the highlights of the Honolulu 2006 conference was the opportunity for the Guardian Angels to march and enter a float in Honolulu’s world-famous Aloha Festival Parade. This spectacular community event is televised each year and draws huge crowds into the streets of Honolulu. Another highlight was the opportunity to Patrol the streets of Honolulu, hosted by members of the Hawaii Chapter. For the first time ever, the Guardian Angels of New Zealand, along with other Guardian Angels from all over the United States, Japan, and South Africa were able to help keep the streets of a foreign nation safe for at least one night.
Curtis Sliwa pays a visit...
In August 2007, after nearly three years since Andy first had the idea of establishing the Guardian Angels in New Zealand, Curtis Sliwa came to visit. High on his agenda was to:
- inspect the New Zealand organization
- Patrol with its members
- formally graduate the Chapters; and
- personally administer and receive their Oath of Service.
Accompanying Curtis for this trip was Masato “Eight” Matsumura, the Guardian Angels Japan Vice-President, Kashiwa Chapter Leader. For the first time in New Zealand’s history, a Guardian Angel representing Japan would patrol our streets. Japan is home to the largest Guardian Angles organization outside US soil. Their Leader, Keiji “Duke” Oda, is the International Coordinator and considered by many to be Curtis’ right-hand. Japan’s Patrol and training standards are considered to be the highest in the world.
Naturally, for the New Zealand Chapters, this was our first big test on home territory: and the pressure was on to perform. The Lads were being closely scrutinized by two of the Guardian Angels organization’s most senior members: they would either measure up, or they would not. Fortunately, all went well: The Lads delivered. New Zealand’s Oath of Service was administered on Friday, August 31 2007 across from the Britomart train station in Auckland, and Andy “Chieftain” Cawston was reaffirmed as National Director.
TV-3’s Campbell Live news magazine covered Curtis Sliwa’s visit from start-to-finish. Their segment was broadcast a week later, on September 4 2007.
...To be continued