Profile: Lorraine Woodruff-Long forges new partnership with SFPD, revitalizes Cadet Academy

PAL Executive Director Lorraine Woodruff-Long

Woodruff-Long (second from left, middle row) with first graduating class of cadets.

Woodruff-Long addresses the crowd at 50th Anniversary Dinner in October 2010

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.

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.”

Basketball Season Ends on Slam Dunk

The 5th grade Warriors battle it out against the 5th grade St. Mary's boys. Photo by Sue Wong.

The 5th grade Warriors champs: Zack, Vince, Joey, Frank, Coach Will Watkins, Walter & James

PAL basketball ended its season with a slam dunk, having signed up 63 teams to play, the most in PAL history. This year’s basketball season was an example of great teamwork, involving some 68 volunteer PAL coaches, 19 Rec & Park coaches, dozens of referees, the city’s Rec & Park Department, PAL — and the kids, more than 600 of them. Together, they created a program with a lot of hustle and energy.

Will Watkins, who has coached a PAL team for four years and this year coached the Warriors, a fifth grade boys team which won the championship in its division, calls it the most successful year to date.

“We won every game, which was a lot of fun,” he said. “A game or two may have been a little one-sided, but for the most part everyone did a pretty good job. The games were pretty competitive.”

Altogether there were 10 winning teams in age groups ranging from third grade up through middle school. (You can view the winners here.)

The PAL league runs from the beginning of October through the end of November. Games are played on Monday, Thursday and Friday evenings, with start times ranging from 4:00 to 7:30.

The PAL league is very deliberately timed to precede the winter basketball seasons run by organizations such as Catholic Youth Organization, Amateur Athletic Union, and various schools.

Watkins says he’s very pleased with the way PAL runs the league. It helps his kids get “warmed up” for the subsequent season. Watkins coaches a couple of CYO boys’ teams at St. Anne’s School in the Sunset.

He started with PAL four seasons ago. “I was basically just looking for a lead for the seventh grade boys to get warmed up and play together for upcoming CYO season.”

Joanna Doyle, who runs the program for PAL, says this year is PAL’s most successful since she’s started running the program a few years ago.

“I think we did a better outreach push to SF Unified, pulling from teams we had in previous years and letting them know hey, it’s time for basketball to start.” She says PAL also reached out to all the CYO schools.

One drawback this year, however, is there was a shortage of referee. Somehow PAL made it through the season with enough refs, but they definitely would like to recruit more referees for next year.

Doyle also praised the partnership with the city.

PAL basketball is run in cooperation with the San Francisco Rec & Park Department. The department provides coaches as well as gym space at nine locations throughout the city.

A successful basketball program is dependent on having available gyms, and it isn’t always easy to find gyms that are open and available at convenient times for children.

Doyle says the great thing about the Rec & Park gyms is they are all over the city. “You can’t live too far away without there being a gym participating with us,” Doyle notes.

Coaches pick up t-shirts as season starts Saturday

This week we’ve gotten to say “hello” to all our coaches and team managers and they’ve come to pick up their field permits and schedules.  First game of the season is Saturday.  Kick off!

Informational Meeting on PAL Summer Cadet Academy 3/10

Are you 14 to 20 years old and interested in the 2011 PAL Summer Cadet Academy?  This 4-week intensive law enforcement training runs from June 13 to July 8.  Graduates will immediately be eligible for internships at SFPD stations/bureaus and PAL Cadet Activities.  If you would like to learn more please attend an information session this Thursday March 10 6:00 to 7:00 PM at the Police Academy, 350 Amber Drive (Room 100), San Francisco, CA  94131.

For applications and more information check our the cadet program page.