Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Castro patroller John Fitzinger dies


Castro Patrol Special Police Officer John Fitzinger. Photo: Courtesy CCOP
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Longtime Castro Patrol Special Police Officer John Fitzinger, who spent years working to ensure safety in San Francisco's LGBT neighborhood, died Saturday, October 7, one day before his 62nd birthday.

Holly Fitzinger, 37, who was Mr. Fitzinger's niece but regarded him as her father, said he died after having a procedure related to heart problems.

Mr. Fitzinger was "genuinely the most kind-hearted man I ever met in my life," she said.

Mr. Fitzinger was well known for keeping people in check in the neighborhood, which often has a mix of rowdy bar patrons and homeless people.

"John Fitzinger was the epitome of community policing," Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter. "... Everyone knew him, especially the nighttime crowd and the street people. They knew him as a tough but fair police officer; one who would rescue them if they were hurting but wouldn't allow bad behavior."

Aiello said Mr. Fitzinger "worked closely" with police from Mission Station, which oversees the district.

(Patrol special police officers are approved by the San Francisco Police Department but hired by private businesses and individuals to provide security. The city doesn't consider them to be police officers.)

In a phone interview, Greg Carey, patrol chief for the volunteer group Castro Community on Patrol, said, "John was our first line of safety," and he was usually able to respond to situations in minutes, faster than regular police.

Mr. Fitzinger also "had a real balance of compassion and law enforcement," said Carey. "Many times, he was able to help people find their way into various services" just "by working with them. ...That was one of his real skills. Not everybody ended up in handcuffs."

Mr. Fitzinger had worked with lesbian Castro Patrol Special Police Officer Jane Warner, who died in 2010 after a long battle with cancer.

Alan Byard, president of the San Francisco Patrol Special Police Officers Association, said that Mr. Fitzinger got appointed to the neighborhood "about 12 years ago." He took over the beat after Warner died and soon won praise from the Castro's bars and other businesses.

"No matter what kind of situation he was in, he always had a smile," said Byard. "He always had good words to say about people, even people he had conflicts with on the street. ... He genuinely cared about what was going on in his beats there."

Byard said his organization is working to fill Mr. Fitzinger's spot to ensure there's no "lapse in coverage" in the neighborhood.

Holly Fitzinger, who lives in Rio Vista, recalled visiting Mr. Fitzinger while he was patrolling the neighborhood and seeing how warmly people treated him.

Fitzinger said that her uncle "was as straight as a board," but he cherished his work in the Castro.

"He just loved everything about his job and that community, and he was so protective over his people," she said. He also helped educate others about the LGBTQ community.

"He taught a lot of the family to be open-minded, and that people are people, no matter what gender, what sexuality, or what race," said Fitzinger.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, whose District 8 includes the Castro, said in a statement, "John was a tremendous positive presence in the Castro for many years and will be truly missed by the community. ... He tirelessly worked to help residents and merchants in the neighborhood. My deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time."

Plans for a memorial are pending. A Gofundme page has been established to help Mr. Fitzinger's family with funeral expenses.


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