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Lorraine Lombardo's standard mode of transportation, when scouting for cars doing illegal U-turns on Noe Valley's main drag, is her trusty police-issue mountain bike.
Photo by Pamela Gerard
By Olivia Boler
On a Thursday around noon, San Francisco Police Officer Lorraine Lombardo handcuffs her mountain bike outside Bernie's on 24th Street before heading inside the café for a cup of coffee. She's been off duty for a few days, and it's time to catch up with the local merchants and neighbors.
"People see the handcuffs and they know I'm here," she says. "They come in and tell me what's been going on."
For a little over 20 years, Lombardo--known even to the panhandlers as "Lorraine"--has been working the Noe Valley beat. Technically, her job title is Community Police Officer, but the more colloquial term "beat cop" suits her fine, too.
Lombardo explains that her beat--the territory she covers--stretches loosely from Valencia Street to Grand View and from 21st to 26th streets. (Ingleside Police Station handles the part of Noe Valley that is south of Cesar Chavez.) She reports to Mission Police Station and works under Capt. Greg Corrales, who recently returned to the station after a stint in the Police De partment's traffic detail.
"I'm usually on 24th Street," says Lombardo, 56. "But I'll respond anywhere I'm needed."
Since Lombardo joined the police force in the mid-1980s, she has seen its manpower dwindle. When she was first assigned the Noe Valley beat, she and another officer, Lois Perillo, would switch off. "That was great. We'd cross over one day, and someone was always covering the beat. Now it's just me."
In recent years, Noe Valley shopkeepers and property owners have filled that hole by funding the San Francisco Patrol Special Police, a private group that gets training from the Police Academy and is supervised by the San Francisco Police Department. Lombardo says she appreciates Officer Jane Warner of the Special Patrol. "We communicate well, and it's great having her around."
The Noe Valley Voice last profiled Lombardo 18 years ago in the April 1992 issue. "In fact, I think I was interviewed right here," she gestures to the interior of Bernie's. "But back then, it was Spinelli's. "
She still has the same schedule--a "4/10, which means I'm on four days with a 10-hour shift from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and I never know when my days off will be. They're never the same days."
Even though she doesn't live in the neighborhood--"To buy a house, I'm short about a million," she laughs--Lombardo says that the people of Noe Valley are like a family to her. "People are informal and comfortable."
She attends the Noe Valley Merchants Association meetings. "I think we have a mutual respect after all these years. That's not so easy to say for some officers." She also tries to be available for special events like the Harvest Festival and Noel Stroll. "If people specifically ask for me, the station will work to get me here."
Guard That Laptop
Over her career, she's been involved in two shootings, but most of the incidents she encounters in Noe Valley fall into the category of petty theft, burglary, narcotics, robbery, or aggressive panhandling.
Lombardo notes there ha s been a spate of laptop thefts in cafes in recent months. She looks around at the other Bernie's patrons, and there are at least six sitting with laptops (including this reporter).
"If you're getting up to get your coffee or cream or to go to the bathroom, take your laptop with you. Or ask someone to watch it for you," says Lombardo. "Stolen laptops, cell phones...they're really easy to sell."
Another too common crime in the neighborhood is home invasion. "A basic reminder that we all need to hear is don't forget to lock your doors," says Lombardo. "Particularly back doors to gardens. Make sure you lock your houses completely. A lot of people who have lived 30, 40, 50 years in Noe Valley tell me, 'I feel safe.' But we've had a string of burglaries over the years, and I don't want to see people lose their property while they're asleep."
Lombardo also handles traffic patrol and says she sees many drivers blowing through stop signs or not wearing their seat belts. "My favorite ticket to give out is to d rivers who make a U-turn in the middle of the block to get a parking spot on the opposite side of the street. Or drivers that turn left out of the Whole Foods parking lot, when there are two [no-left-turn] signs, one at the exit and another across the street. You know what they say to me? 'I was in a hurry. I didn't see the sign.' I ask them, 'How long have you lived here?'" She shakes her head and laughs.
From Farm to Firearms
As a child who grew up on four different farms--the last one was in Vacaville--Lombardo never dreamed she'd one day have a career in law enforcement.
"I wanted to be a fashion designer! I wanted to go to New York. From the first day I came on the beat, you don't know how many times I've been asked, 'What are you doing in this job?' I was 32 when I came in. I had a sales background, and I liked working with people and working outside. And I was tired of not having job security."
Before joining the SFPD, Lombardo owned her own business, the Coffee Connecti on in Marin, which supplied coffee to offices. "I went from wearing business suits and high heels to carrying a gun."
As for her family at home, they don't worry. From one of the many pockets in her uniform, Lombardo takes out a photo of her two cats, Prince and King. "These are the only men in my life."
She likes dogs too, and is eager to visit the two sheltie puppies in Just for Fun, to frolic with them on the floor. As she heads out the door, she gives a wave to Bernadette Melvin, owner of Bernie's.
"Noe Valley is a great neighborhood," Lombardo says. "It's hard to find much wrong with it."