Lorraine Woodruff-Long grew up in Texas but hails from a long line of San Franciscans — five generations, to be exact.
Her family dates back to the Gold Rush, when her great-great-great-great grandfather, a Scottish sea captain, made his way across the Atlantic, then 3,000 miles across the country, to California, to pan for gold.
Later, her great-grandmother, Myrtle, became one of the few female doctors to practice medicine in California during the 1906 earthquake.
Woodruff-Long likes to tell the story of how Myrtle narrowly escaped being crushed in the big quake. Asleep at the children’s hospital moments before the 5:12 a.m. tremor, she woke up abruptly and got out of bed. A heartbeat later, the earthquake hit and the wall over her bed collapsed. Had she slept a few minutes longer, she likely would have died — and Woodruff-Long might not be here today.
Thanks to that amazing bit of luck, Woodruff-Long is here, and as new executive director of PAL, has spent the last two years mining its rich history and laying the groundwork for a strong future.
Among the goals she set for the organization: Restore the partnership with the San Francisco Police Department and revitalize the long standing cadet program.
When PAL was founded in 1959, all programs were run by police and all but a handful of coaches were cops. Some programs, such as judo, were run out of the Hall of Justice. Kids and police came into much closer contact, and the community was richer for it.
Over the years, the balance shifted, as more civilians took over coaching positions and the SFPD adopted different priorities.
By the time Woodruff-Long joined PAL, “we had lost our historical partnership with the police department,” she says.
Woodruff-Long wanted to reverse that loss. She reached out to several members of the SFPD, including Commander of Investigations David Lazar, who at the time was Ingleside Station captain.
She also enlisted the help of Bayview Station Captain Greg Suhr; Ingleside Station Captain Louis Cassanego, who at the time was head of the Police Academy; and former Mission Station Captain John Goldberg.
Together, they focused on the PAL cadet program. In its heyday, the cadet program served more than 50 kids with a rich assortment of guest speakers, law-enforcement classes, and internships. But over the last decade, it had fallen off the radar of many at SFPD.
Now there was a chance to revive the program, and with it the PAL-SFPD partnership.
“I felt that was really the thing I had to champion,” Woodruff-Long said. “There is a real need for youth to learn substantive job and leadership skills to prepare them for college and career, wherever that leads them. This is a program that helps provide that. Ultimately, I want the best, most educated, most qualified candidates for the Police Department to be coming out of the PAL Cadet program.”
By giving kids a taste of law enforcement as a career, a revitalized cadet program might ultimately help the police department with one of its top priorities—recruiting top-quality applicants. The cadet program would serve as a kind of “farm system,” encouraging young men and women to finish high school, go to college, and pursue a career in law enforcement.
FINISHING THE JOB
Woodruff-Long credits Commander Lazar with the idea of reviving the PAL cadet program. Lazar was a cadet from age 14 to 18 and says the experience was “very special and very meaningful” to him as a young boy.
“I saw the potential for the program and knew that if anybody could get it done, Lorraine could,” he said. “Her energy is amazing … she’s really passionate about her work and she believes strongly in it. It rubs off, they see the results. She’s seen as a person who gets things done.”
Captain Suhr said it was Woodruff-Long’s energy that propelled the idea forward.
“Every time you talk to Lorraine, it’s like she’s had six cups of coffee,” Suhr said. “She’s a finisher. She’s totally a get-here-from-there person who says, ‘I just need somebody to help break the barriers,’ and then she starts banging down the walls, until she can move the wall a little bit.”
For example, he said, while the police originally proposed signing up 20 kids, Woodruff-Long went out and signed up 25 kids.
“She ran with it and did a fabulous job filling the class,” Suhr said. “If it were up to Lorraine, the cadets would outnumber the cops.”
Captain Cassanego said Woodruff-Long inspires many people and added, “She gets the job done. Failure is not an option with her.”
With the help of these police, PAL presented a four-pronged plan to then-Police Chief George Gascón, who enthusiastically endorsed it:
- • First, create the Summer Cadet Academy program. The intensive four-week program, which was launched last summer, attracted 25 cadets. The kids, who ranged in age from 14 to 19, graduated in July. PAL expects to double enrollment next summer, to 50.
- • Second, place the graduates in yearlong internships at either the Bayview or Ingleside stations, working alongside police officers and allowing them on ride-alongs.
- • Third, give cadets community service assignments, such as helping with crowd control at the Chinese New Year parade and the San Francisco Giants World Series parade last fall. Have cadets attend bimonthly meetings of the academy for further training.
- • Fourth, give cadets the opportunity to participate in events such as the Cadet College Night. Held for the first time in January, this event familiarized cadets with the array of local law-enforcement college programs available. (See related story.) Woodruff-Long enlisted the help of Former Police Chief Tony Ribera, now a teacher at the University of San Francisco. She also hopes to create a small scholarship program aimed at helping PAL cadets get into these college programs.
So far these efforts have been paying off beautifully. “She’s really taken the program and brought it far beyond my expectations,” Commander Lazar said.
“This is the definition of community police,” Captain Suhr added. Acting Chief Jeff Godown has asked PAL to expand the program to all SFPD stations and bureaus as well.
The parents of cadets, meanwhile, have been reporting that their children are more responsible and have matured in a positive way. Captain Cassanego says the kids get to see the police as “human beings, with a face and personality, just like everyone else.”
“We’ve got these really awesome kids,” Woodruff-Long said. “I get stopped by parents on the street who say this program changed their kid’s life.”