MAUI POLICE BRISTLE AT ‘GUARDIAN ANGELS’

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By Melissa Tanji

WAILUKU, Maui (The Maui News, July 13) - A volunteer community group, which wants to spread its wings on Maui to help deter crime, is already facing opposition from Maui police Chief Tom Phillips.

Members of the Guardian Angels, a worldwide group dedicated to helping people patrol their communities and helping others in need, officially announced Sunday that they are establishing a chapter on Maui.

Guillermo Coscarelli, who will head the Maui group, said the Guardian Angels started in New York City more than 25 years ago.

"What we were doing over there was patrolling with the community. We are not a vigilante group," he said on Sunday at a news conference at the Ohana Maui Islander in Lahaina.

But Phillips told The Maui News last week that he was less than enthusiastic about the Angels establishing a chapter on the Valley Isle.

"We don’t have anything to do with them," he said. "I haven’t talked to them. They haven’t contacted me. If they did, I would tell them not to come."

"They are not law enforcement. They are not auxiliary police officers. They are not citizen patrols. We don’t know anything about them, what their backgrounds are. I’ve heard they provide training, but we don’t know what kind of training or who does it," he added.

Coscarelli said he wasn’t surprised by Phillips’ comments and pointed out that the group got the same reaction in New York.

"At the end, they realized we are not a vigilante group. We are not trained to do their jobs," Coscarelli said.

But Coscarelli, who moved from New York to Mahinahina about a year and a half ago, said the group will not be a liability to the police but instead will provide assistance to an understaffed Maui Police Department.

A small group of Guardian Angels visiting from Oahu patrolled Front Street in Lahaina on Saturday. Group members said they were successful in diffusing an argument and aiding an intoxicated man.

"It’s going to be a plus, plus," said State Representative Kameo "Kam" Tanaka, who was instrumental in getting the Angels group to establish a chapter on Maui.

"They are going to prove (skeptics) wrong," said Tanaka, whose House district includes West Maui, Maalaea and north Kihei.

Tanaka said he listened to his constituents as well as other residents on Maui and thought the Angels would provide a good way to assist the community.

One of Tanaka’s staff members, Eric Costanios, is the media and community relations coordinator for the Hawai΄i Guardian Angels.

Tanaka said he got a negative response from Phillips when he called him in March about the Angels conducting a patrol on Maui.

Tanaka said the work the Angels do will help Maui police.

Phillips said "some politicians" have called him and told them the Angels were being invited to Maui. The chief advised them that he would not be willing to work with the civilian group.

"I have to tell them, if they (politicians) want to do something, why don’t they pass laws that take felons off the streets? That’s what they can do to help protect the public," Phillips said.

Tanaka said that the Angels will be beneficial to the community and will be able to help such groups as the Kalama Park Action Team, which aims to make South Maui’s largest park safe and secure.

While Coscarelli is the only Angel on Maui, he was joined by four other Angels from Oahu on Sunday. They pledged to support him as he got his chapter started.

Coscarelli said he will speak to schools and reach out to the community.

He is also interested in recruiting new members, who receive training in areas such as self-defense and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Angel members will also be trained in "verbal judo" or using ways to defuse problems with words. The Angels are armed only with small flashlights and are searched for any weapons or destructive items before they go out on patrols, officials said.

Coscarelli said the Angels with their red berets and white T-shirts are a visual deterrent to crime.

"We don’t want to confront. It will lead to problems," he said.

But he said group members can make citizen arrests.

Ricardo Garcia, director of the State’s Angel Chapter, said the Angel members are 7 years old and older, although children do not go on patrols.

The Guardian Angels, headed nationally by Curtis Sliwa, also assist in disasters and other times of need.

Coscarelli helped authorities in New York during recovery efforts after attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

The volunteer group has already established a chapter on Oahu. That chapter has at least 35 members.

The Oahu chapter was established in May 2004 and has reached out to areas such as Ewa Beach, Chinatown and Kalihi, Garcia said.

For more information, call Garcia at (808) 220-4288 or Costanios at (808) 368-2606.

Or, visit the group’s Web site: www.guardianangels.org/

July 14, 2005

The Maui News: www.mauinews.com

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