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Venice's one-woman crime-fighting machine is heading back to Boston

Boston Dawna, a haircutter by day, has no apprehensions about initiating private citizen's arrests. The news that she's returning to her hometown has dismayed those residents who rely on her patrols.

August 29, 2010|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

"Cuts hair by day and crime by night."

The motto on the business card pretty much sums up Boston Dawna, who for many years has been a one-woman, bicycle-riding, crime-fighting machine in Venice.

By her own estimate, she has initiated thousands of private citizen's arrests of "thieves, burglars and robbers," pouncing on them from bushes and restraining them with handcuffs she buys in bulk from the Pleasure Chest sex shop. Police scanner in hand, she has blown the whistle on bootleg apartment units and rousted backpack-toting vagrants.

"When it comes to community policing, she's one of the few I've come across in 23 years of being a police officer who really understands what that means," said Capt. Jon Peters, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Division, which includes Venice. Although he doesn't condone her hiding in the foliage at night, he does appreciate the assist. "She has been able to make her neighborhood safer," he said.

But come Sept. 15, Boston Dawna will be returning to her native Boston. The news has greatly dismayed those residents who have come to rely on her nighttime patrols aboard her purple beach cruiser bicycle.

The Neighborhood Watch block captain and Red Sox fan will depart amid a media whirl. Recently, she helped nab a woman suspected of pouring the stinky contents of a motor home holding tank into the beachside neighborhood's streets. Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich has vowed to prosecute the alleged crime, a misdemeanor.

Police praised Boston Dawna, 58, for quickly alerting them and handling the arrest. She in turn praised "my cops."

"My cops bust their behinds and put their lives on the line," she said in an interview last week while eating scrambled eggs al fresco near Ocean Front Walk. "They're the best cops in the country."

A crime novelist would have to summon all her creative powers to limn a larger-than-life character like Boston Dawna. A chain-smoker with a voice like a rasp, she ceased using her full name and began spelling her given name, "Donna," the way she pronounces it with her full-on Boston accent. By now, just about everybody in Venice who knows her — and that's just about everybody — calls her Boston Dawna.

(In the past, she has cited fear of retaliation as a reason for using the informal moniker. Venice certainly has some history there. In 2000, in what was labeled an assassination, a community anti-gang activist was shot to death in front of his home.)

Boston Dawna's vocabulary is as salty as the Venice surf. Brash and "in your face," she doesn't hesitate for a second to approach suspected "perps" with a "Whatcha doin'?"

But she is the proverbial marshmallow inside, said Sally Le Boeuf, a friend and fellow Venetian. "She has a 30-year-old parrot named Elwood that listened to eight-track R&B tapes in the 1980s and talks like an R&B singer," Le Boeuf said. Boston Dawna has named her gray Dodge Durango — a gift from a friend — Duke. And she pets every dog she encounters on the sidewalks.

Glen "Boomer" Titan said Boston Dawna has provided his family with peace of mind. "If there's a disturbance, I don't call the cops; I call Dawna," said Titan, who lives near her Pacific Avenue apartment. "She's really a treasure for us."

Two hundred or so of Boston Dawna's fans turned out Aug. 23 for a farewell party in the parking lot of the LAPD's Pacific Division on Culver Boulevard. "I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life," Boston Dawna said of the fuss made over her.

After all, she's the one accustomed to making the fuss. Over the years, on major holidays, she has prepared meals for Pacific Division officers — prime rib or turkey, devil's food cake and pumpkin mousse with hot pecan sauce.

After 39 years in Venice, the haircutter and crime buster said she has had it with illegal immigration, congestion and "dirtbags" who threaten public health by dumping their waste on the streets. Wearing a denim jacket with a Red Sox logo, she said she looks forward to being back in a city with great public transit and no RV encampments.

Once she is settled, she said, she'll resume her overnight patrols.

"Some people like playing golf," she said. "Some people like riding bikes or surfing. I like hiding in bushes and catching criminals."

martha.groves@latimes.com

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