Hipsters, hustlers, celebrities, thieves, dope peddlers and just about everyone else in gritty, quirky Venice Beach know Boston Dawna. You can't miss the one-woman crime fighter.
She's like Batman, without the mask.
For nearly 40 years, she's cruised 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 surveillance.
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 to thongs.
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 the beach!
© 2010 The Associated Press.