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Community honors SFPD Cmdr. David Lazar; beloved beatnik ‘Diamond Dave’ turns 80

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Left: Cmdr. David Lazar was honored with the Community Recognition Award by the North Beach Citizens group on Sunday night. Right: “Diamond” Dave Whitaker enjoyed his 80th birthday at Adobe Books on 24th Street. (Left: Courtesy SFPD/via Twitter; Right: Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)
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With all the heartache between our city and police of late, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that police can, and do, foster deep relationships with their communities.

On Sunday night, the North Beach community celebrated its former top cop: San Francisco police Commander David Lazar.

A 26-year department veteran, fourth generation San Francisco native, former captain of Central Station and now commander of SFPD’s community engagement division, Lazar was recognized by the North Beach Citizens group with its “Community Recognition Award” at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club.

“He has a holistic view of The City,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, “and the unique quirks of our special neighborhoods.”

For example, two public housing complexes in Chinatown, known as Ping Yuen and North Ping Yuen, suffered from crime problems for years. So in February 2015, when he led Central Station, Lazar created a Ping-dedicated police unit.

But this wasn’t fly-by-night police work, and the unit did more than just patrol; Lazar made sure the Ping unit was part of the community. Now, under Capt. Paul Yep, the unit carries on Lazar’s traditions, which include officers leading a pumpkin-carving event during Halloween with kids in the Pings.

Peskin described Lazar’s support of homeless navigation centers as key to enacting them, though Lazar was not initially on board with the idea.

“Like [President] Barack Obama, his thinking had ‘evolved,’” Peskin said.

Lazar pointed to the need for police to be entwined with their communities.

“Sir Robert Peel, the modern-day father of law enforcement in the 1800s, said that the police are the public and the public are the police,” Lazar told the crowd Sunday night.

“In a profession where police officers are transitioning from the warrior mindset to a guardian mindset,” he added, “the priority of police work must be about helping those in need.”

* * *

Another beloved San Francisco notable was celebrated this weekend: “Diamond” Dave Whitaker.

The beatnik, hippie, noted poet, and locally famed prognosticator celebrated his 80th birthday Saturday night at Adobe Books on 24th Street. Local free-spirited folks streamed into the doors of the small bookstore, with some hanging out on the sidewalk just to hear Dave speak.

Dave first found his way to San Francisco when he was 19 and traces his time in The City back to the Diggers and chillin’ with Bob Dylan. Since then, he’s helped organize Poems Under the Dome and lights up the airwaves weekly on Pirate Cat Radio.

He’s also a lifelong learner, influencing many City College of San Francisco students through his poetry (and he’s still a sometime-student).

Put bluntly: Dave is part of San Francisco’s funky soul, and we’re lucky to have him.

He’s certainly not known for his fancy style, however, which is why I was surprised to see him in a patterned tie and sportcoat at his birthday.

“Someone just gave it to me,” Dave told me, with a shrug. “I didn’t think I’d ever even wear it.”

After Dave thanked the crowd of well-wishers, the band behind him, Trio Cambio, strummed like minstrels from the Summer of Love.

“Salud, Dave,” they chanted. The room chanted back, sing-song style, “Salud, Dave.”

Salud, Dave.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at @sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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