As a teenager, when most of his buddies were spending their days running around the Sunset getting into trouble, David Lazar was working on robbery cases and learning radio codes as part of the cadet program run by the Police Activities League.
Just a few years later, two months after his 21st birthday, Lazar became the youngest officer on San Francisco’s police force. He was already leaps ahead of other freshmen on the force, having spent nearly 1,000 hours with the force as a volunteer. Today, after 18 years on the force, Lazar is the force’s youngest station captain, the leader of the large Ingleside police district.
Lazar is just one of tens of thousands of San Franciscans — and dozens of current and former police officers, including retired Chief Heather Fong — who are alumni of the Police Action League programs. The organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a fundraiser Tuesday, and will honor 19 people in its newly formed “PAL Hall of Fame.”
The Police Activities League was created in 1959 by a group of officers who were worried about delinquent youth lacking positive adult role models. They had heard of the success of a police-run sports program in New York City and decided to try a similar tack in San Francisco, targeting low-income neighborhoods to start sports teams for boys, coached by police officers and other
Officer Gus Bruneman went to the police credit union and asked for a $3,000 personal loan to start the program. Within a year, they had started football, baseball and track teams.
Fifty years later, the program is still a success, Executive Director Lorraine Woodruff-Long said. The program now helps about 5,000 to 6,000 children a year, particularly in the Western Addition and The City’s southeastern sector.
Woodruff-Long said the program is looking to expand even further in coming years and grow its ranks of volunteers — who already number 800.
Meanwhile, Lazar is still involved with the program that so informed his youth. He said he recently started a PAL basketball team in the Sunnydale housing project in Visitation Valley — which is in the Ingleside district — coached by police officers.
“My intention is to bring the police back into PAL, but more importantly to bridge the gap between the police and the children we serve,” he said. “It starts there. If we can form those trusting relationships, they can turn to the police for advice or assist the officers in some way.”
If you go
The nonprofit San Francisco Police Activities League is hosting a fundraiser tonight in honor of its 50th anniversary. The event will be held at the United Irish Cultural Center at 2700 45th Ave. from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person and are available on the league’s
Web site, www.sfpal.org.