Guardian Angels (L-R: Fernan Vargas, Miguel Fuentes, Quiten Battease, Philipe Arreola, and Santos Lopez
The Guardian Angels may land in Boystown as early as next spring. The unarmed, all-volunteer crime fighters are carefully considering the neighborhood for the location of the Chicago chapter’s headquarters.
The Chicago chapter—which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month—has been without a central office for almost a decade, according to Miguel Fuentes, 40, chapter leader and national director of the U.S. chapters.
Last month, a small group of Boystown residents met with Fuentes and other Angels at the Center on Halsted to explore the possibility of joining forces in response to a summer of headline-grabbing criminal activity in the area. At the meet-and-greet style meeting, the Angels stressed their goal to increase patrols in the area once the chapter secures a location for their central office.
RedEye caught up with Fuentes, a Guardian Angel for 23 years, to discuss how community involvement inspired the group to look at Boystown as the potential site for its headquarters, as well as his tips for staying safe during the upcoming fall and winter months.
Public perception seems to be that Boystown has seen a significant uptick in crime this year—is that why the Chicago Chapter of the Guardian Angels is looking to establish their central office in this area?
The crime wave that has come about lately in that area is something that is not new to the neighborhood. The Boystown, Lakeview and Lincoln Park areas are generally safe, but then again, that is why criminals prey on people who live and work in these areas. We have already had active patrols in these areas but not to the scale of what we are working on for the near future.
When will the Guardian Angels establish their home base in Boystown and where will the office be located?
Right now, we’re tentatively planning for early spring, next year. It takes months of networking to make this move possible as we are a non-profit, all-volunteer organization. What I can tell you at this point is that, ideally, we would like to be located near the CTA Red Line. As you know, the CTA subway system has, and will always be, the first priority for the Guardian Angels. It is also our lifeline for members who travel to our patrol areas from all over the city.
Why is a central headquarters important for the Guardian Angels?
Central locations are important for many reasons. It’s a place where the Guardian Angels can meet before we go out on patrol, and it provides a space for us to conduct training. Having an office space gives members a place to hang their coats and stow their bookbags and other items—especially considering that some of our members come to patrol right after work or school.
By virtue of simply having an office space in an area, it instantly increases our overall presence in that neighborhood. Remember, with our white shirts and red berets, we are a visible crime deterrent, and having an office space adds to that visibility.
How important is community involvement in bringing the Guardian Angels to Boystown?
The main reason for our potential move to the neighborhood is largely due to the amount of community involvement we’ve seen from the people living in Lakeview. It’s not easy to get people to donate office space and to help pay for our utilities, as you can imagine. Since none of our members are paid, it’s hard to keep the lights on, so to speak.
You should know that the Guardian Angels do not rush into an area or neighborhood without community support. We are regular people who live in these areas and we depend on people residing in these neighborhoods to get involved in some way. You don’t have to join the Guardian Angels, but you should make an effort to do something to help the area you live in. Many neighborhoods need the Guardian Angels but they simply do not want to get involved. We cannot help you if you do not want to help yourself first.
What is your advice for how people can stay safe during the upcoming fall and winter months?
- The first thing is, when you’re on the street, get rid of the iPhone or iPod. Not only do you become distracted when using these devices, but your device has likely just caught the attention of a potential criminal.
- Let people know if you have to travel when it gets dark, and try to travel in groups.
- The streets are no place to meet people, so don’t invite people you don’t know to your home.
- Be very careful when giving money to people on the street. They might ask you for spare change, but when you pull your wallet or purse out they might snatch it.
- If you have to shop avoid carrying every bag with you from store to store. Shop a little at a time, if you can. Don’t become the person who cannot fight back because they have so many boxes and bags that they can’t even stay balanced.
- If you do become a victim of a crime, call the police as soon as possible from a safe place. Try to get a good, detailed description of the attacker—telling the police that the assailant was wearing black pants and a black coat is not going to help them.
- Make it a point to look for—and mentally note—physical characteristics such as facial scars, missing teeth, facial hair, tattoos and, if possible, the color and brand of the assailant’s shoes or boots.
- Take a self-defense class, not a martial arts class or a cardio boxing class.
To learn more about the Guardian Angels, including information on CyberAngels, an online safety education program, visit their website.
The Guardian Angels (L-R: Fernan Vargas, Miguel Fuentes, Quiten Battease, Philipe Arreola, and Santos Lopez)