LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) —Amid the colorful and quirky backdrop of Venice Beach, a one-woman crime-fighting team says after 40 years, she’s hanging up her cape.
For nearly four decades, Boston Dawna has patrolled Venice, first in an old
battered Buick Regal and today on her purple beach bicycle. Armed
with a pair of handcuffs she bought at a sex shop, she’s always on
the lookout for lawbreakers.
Nowadays, the carnival that is Venice Beach has gotten too much,
even for her.
Boston Dawna is leaving, and residents and police officers alike
are none too happy.
“We’re going to miss her, that’s for sure,” says Peggy
Thusing, senior lead officer for the LAPD’s Venice area. “She just
has a knack for spotting a criminal.”
Dawna, 58, was a teenager when she followed her brother west to
California in 1971 from their native Boston, the city that gave her
both a nickname and the distinctive, nasally way she says it.
As she grew up, it became clear that her life of late nights
would bring her across the paths of miscreants.
Back in the day, she rarely got to bed before the discos and the
sports bars closed.
On her drive home in the city’s gritty beach-front section,
she’d see them everywhere: Thieves breaking into cars, drunks
urinating in people’s front yards, drug dealers peddling their
wares outside stores that hours earlier were packed with tourists.
“And I would knock on neighbors’ doors at 3 or 4 in the morning
– this was before cell phones — and I’d say, ‘Go call the cops.’
And the cops would come and catch them,” she says. “And I’d be
like, ‘Wow! This is fun!”‘
Soon, she was patrolling Venice herself, snagging criminals and
shouting at them, “Sit down or I’ll blow your … brains out.”
She’d slap on the handcuffs, pull a cell phone from her bra and
call the police.
Donna Chaet, a hair stylist by day whose thick accent is laced
at times with profanity, had become Boston Dawna, crime-fighter.
(She calls herself “Dawna,” just as she says “wah-tah” when she
asks for a drink.)
Thusing, the officer, has her own stories, pointing to the time
Dawna called to say she’d seen someone putting a bicycle in a van.
That’s not an unusual sight in Venice, where hundreds of people
ride bikes along the beach every day. But something about this
person just didn’t look right to her, so police put the van under
They ended up busting a major bicycle theft ring, Thusing says.
Then, there was the time Dawna found a disoriented man under a
lifeguard tower, chattering away that he’d been sent there by his
three-star general, ordered to secure the tower from intruders.
In a no-nonsense voice she ordered him to walk toward the Venice
Pier, then called the police.
A few minutes later an officer approached, laughing. “I asked
him, ‘What’s so funny?’ And he goes, ‘He won’t talk to me. He says
he got his orders from Five-Star General Boston Dawna.”‘
These days, the fun is gone.
No one thing prompted her to leave, she says as she sits in a
seaside bar and grill, not far from the neighborhood’s daily,
impromptu boardwalk circus of colorfully dressed jugglers, guitar
players and carnival barkers pitching everything from patchouli oil
It was a lot of little things like traffic, pollution, the high
cost of living and the permissive attitude she believes city
officials have taken toward the transient homeless population that
has victimized the area.
Recently, she helped police bust a couple living in a camper who
dumped raw sewage into a street.
Just as she is about to grow misty eyed recalling the murder of
one of the many police officers she has cooked holiday dinners for
over the years, she snaps to attention.
“Hang on,” she says, rushing over to confront a man who has
entered the bar and begun accusing people only he can see of
stealing his beer.
“Leave now,” she growls at him as they stand toe to toe, the
angry, heavily tattooed man and Dawna, the brown-haired woman of
average build dressed in a souvenir police T-shirt, faded blue
jeans and large silver hoop earrings.
Surprisingly, he does just that.
Back on the street, he accepts an offer from Alex Thomasson, who
works in an office upstairs, to enter a rehab center.
Like just about everyone in this neighborhood, Thomasson is
Dawna’s friend. Thomasson laughs when she recalls her initial
reaction to Dawna: “I thought she was off her rocker.”
Now, Thomasson and other neighborhood women are calling
themselves the Dawnettes, vowing to continue her crusade. The
police officers she has befriended — she calls them “my cops” –
threw her a going-away party.
After 39 years of patrolling this neighborhood, Dawna is closing
up her salon (named Boston Dawna, of course). She’s taking her
30-year-old pet parrot, Elwood, her cat, eight-track-casette
player, police radio — and handcuffs — with her.
Dawna says she isn’t sure what she’ll do next, although she
would like to take up in Boston where she is leaving off in Venice.
Then, she climbs right through one of the bar’s windows after
looking out to see a pair of homeless people heading toward the
beach with a dog. She quickly tells them: Dogs are not allowed on
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