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June 25, 2007
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The Badge — Serving with pride

The relationship between the media and law enforcement is often adversarial. Reporters appear to seek the sensational elements of a crime story, often to the detriment of the police, and officers tend to be uncooperative with journalists they seem to instinctively mistrust.

Not so with “The Badge,” a new series presented by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter/photographer team embedded with the SFPD. Kudos to the Chronicle for pursuing this series and to the officers who willingly put themselves in the media spotlight in the hopes of helping civilians develop a better understanding of life behind the badge. You’re putting a human face on “the police,” which will benefit us all.

 Read the full "Badge" series

By John Koopman,
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO Lisa Frazer would like to be known as a good cop. Period.

Officer Lisa Frazer (waving) marches in the Gay Pride Parade with the LGBT contingent from the San Francisco Police Department. She's been on the force since 1995.
By all accounts, Frazer is a model officer. She's well liked by her peers. People on her beat know her and smile when they see her coming. Her uniform is impeccable, from the shiny and scuff-free star on her chest to the small but highly polished boots on her feet.

She's small but tough. She teaches martial arts and carries a very large handgun on her hip. Fellow cops have seen her fight, and they say she's more than ready to wade into battle when necessary.

All things being equal, Frazer would rather not be known as the "lesbian cop."

"My personal life is private," she said the other day. "Who I go home with shouldn't matter to anyone."

For the most part, it doesn't. The San Francisco Police Department may be the most gay-friendly department in the United States. Much like the city it serves, the department is a very diverse place. Gay cops serve openly, and they make up a large contingent every year in the Gay Pride Parade.

Frazer said she always liked the idea of going into law enforcement, but her mother was opposed when Frazer was growing up in the East Bay. "She said, 'People shoot cops,' " Frazer recalled.

She studied psychology at St. Mary's College and considered going for a doctoral degree. But she said she wanted some real-world experience first. In the late 1980s, she took a job as a police officer in the East Bay. After a couple of years there, she moved to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, while waiting to get into the SFPD. As a deputy, Frazer worked at the county jail.

Soon after she joined the SFPD in 1995, she said, she was outed. She doesn't like to talk about the incident, but she said it was difficult and uncomfortable for her and other gay and lesbian cops who were involved.

After that, for better or worse, she was labeled. She had to wear the label with pride or simply put up with it.

She chose pride.

Which is why Frazer marches in the annual parade, and why she likes her current assignment as foot patrol cop in the Castro.

"We think the world of Lisa," said Sister Barbi Mitzvah, one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the activist group whose members dress as nuns and this year provided security for some of the festivities. "I don't believe any other city in the United States has such a good working relationship with the LGBT community."

It wasn't always this way. People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other have historically been at odds with cops because the police would enforce all manner of laws prohibiting their behavior. The modern gay-rights movement was sparked largely by the 1969 Stonewall riots of New York, in which gays and lesbians protested raids on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

In San Francisco, the landmark moment was the 1979 "White Night" riots protesting the minimal sentence given to former police Officer Dan White after he killed Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk.

There are still lingering tensions between the gay community and the Police Department. Old memories die hard. It helps, though, to have openly gay officers patrolling the Castro.

In addition to Frazer, there is Sgt. Chuck Limbert, who has always been an outspoken gay man in the SFPD and is one of the most senior gay officers in the department.

Affectionately known as the "Unofficial Mayor of Castro Street," Limbert knows everyone and everyone knows him.

Limbert lives and plays in the Castro. That's not a common trait among cops, many of whom can't afford to live in the city, or would otherwise prefer a house in the suburbs.

"Some people think I give too much attention to the Castro," he said.

Considering the popularity of "community policing," the question becomes: Is it possible to pay too much attention to any neighborhood?

"No, I don't think so," he said. "If you take ownership of it, it's your place. You have much more of an interest in helping people and keeping the neighborhood safe. Community policing is more than just cops walking beats."

While Limbert is comfortable being a gay cop in a gay community, that's only a small part of his identity as a police officer. Within the SFPD, he's well known as a field training officer. Many cops throughout the department were trained by him, and he is the coordinator for all field training activities for the Mission Station.

Limbert grew up in Chicago and studied to be a priest after high school because that's what Irish Catholics did if they were trying to escape their sexual orientation. Eventually, though, his parents disowned him and he moved to San Francisco, vowing to never again deny his nature or hide from society.

He said he's never really suffered any overt discrimination in his 15 years on the job, largely because he was pegged as an activist from the start.

Limbert spent Saturday afternoon and evening walking the Castro, looking for trouble and greeting people. He walks fast and, as one man in the crowd pointed out, with the self-confident strut of a rooster.

Late in the afternoon, Limbert was strolling in front of the Castro Theatre when he was approached by two shirtless men. One knew him, and greeted Limbert with a kiss on the cheek. The man said his friend had just moved to San Francisco and that he wanted to introduce him to Limbert.

"This is Sgt. Chuck," the man said. "If you ever need anything, if anyone ever gives you any trouble, you go see Sgt. Chuck. He'll take care of you."

"Welcome to San Francisco," Limbert said with a smile. "And Happy Gay Day."

Full story: The Badge — Serving with pride

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