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)

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


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.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco mayor calls in 200 law enforcement officers from California to enforce curfew

Mayor London Breed said Sunday morning that she made the request last night as first responders answered calls to dozens of fires and vandalism

Mayor Breed declares curfew after anti-police brutality protest ends in looting, vandalism

Hundreds march through city in largely peaceful day of action marking death of George Floyd

Video surfaces amid George Floyd death fallout showing SF police kneeling on man’s neck

Teen says he struggled to breathe during arrest: ‘I felt like I was going to die’

Trump was dismissive on phone call, George Floyd’s family says

Trump “didn’t give me the opportunity to even speak,”

‘Extremely disturbing’: SF police chief condemns death of George Floyd

Bill Scott joins SFPOA, top cops nationwide in deeming incident a failure of policing

Most Read