After nearly 30 years of service, South San Francisco Police Chief Jeff Azzopardi will be retiring at the end of this year. The Pacifica native rose through the ranks after being appointed police chief in 2014.
While he plans to return to the workforce after the first of the year in another profession, he and wife Nikole will become weekend travelers, following their sons, Nate and Drew, to watch them play college football. Presently, Nate is at the University of Idaho, while younger son Drew, a senior at Junipero Serra High School, hasn’t yet made his choice of college.
I caught up with Azzopardi last Friday night at William Gray Stadium as he was there to honor Coach Bob Lotti on the renaming of Terra Nova football field.
Azzopardi, 51, who grew up on the playing fields of Pacifica and played baseball and football at Terra Nova, says, “I’m ready to move on to a new challenge in my life and spending more time with my family.”
When his sons were young, he coached them in Little League. In 2014 he was vice president of the American Little League, and experienced what he calls his greatest sports moment.
Arguably one of the greatest sports accomplishments in the history of Pacifica sports was the 2014 American Little League All-Star team playing in the Western Regional in San Bernardino. At that time, it was the farthest a Pacifica team had advanced in the 57-year history of the league. With a trip to the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa., looming as a grand prize, the team lost in the championship game to a team from Nevada.
“One hundred percent, it was the best sports experience of my life, being a part of that all-star run to San Bernardino. That team was the best team in the whole western United States that year,” said Azzopardi, who was the administrative coach for the team, assisting on-field coaches Steve Falk, David Shaw and Len Harkness.
“Those three coaches did a wonderful job with those young athletes. I’m biased, but that has to have been the best Little League team that has ever come from Pacifica,” he stated. (His son Nate played on the team.)
Over the course of his police career, Azzopardi rose through the departmental ranks serving as corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and, ultimately, captain in 2009. As a captain, he led both the Operations Division as well as the Services Division.
Throughout his distinguished career, Azzopardi was the recipient of many recognitions, including:
- 2016, awarded the executive certificate by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training;
- 2017, awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the South San Francisco Chamber of Commerce;
- 2018, awarded the Carl Valero Lifetime Achievement award from Pacifica American Little league;
- 2019, awarded the Police Officer of the Year from the San Mateo County Trial Lawyers Association.
Azzopardi got into law enforcement through his interest in the law and working with people.
“My parents’ friend, Pacifican and former Daly City Lt. George Quinn, was someone I admired. He proved that you could be a police officer while still being very involved with his family and our community. I respected that and used him as an example,” he said. “As soon as I graduated from Chico State, I immediately started applying to local police departments and was hired in SSF in January of 1993.”
Azzopardi has a lot of memories of being the chief but some that stand out are working together to pass a sales tax (Measure W) in 2016, he says. “That measure allowed us to build our police station, which will be completed this December. It’s a $56 million project that took a tremendous amount of work by a lot of people.
“What I am most proud of is the professionalism, dedication, and courage that our officers show every day, especially during the times of COVID-19 and the civil unrest surrounding the tragic events involving George Floyd,” he said. “I will never forget their efforts in spite of the pressure put upon them for events that occurred across the country. I am honored to be able to work alongside of them.”
Field upgrade: The Pacifica National Little League has started a fundraising drive to renovate its playing fields at Fairway Park.
Recently, a new scoreboard
was mounted on the Majors field, and plans are underway to install new scoreboards on the AA and Minors fields. More specifically, the PNLL is making an effort to raise funds to add new dirt to all three infields. The PNLL has launched a GoFundMe page to raise $30,000 to cover the cost of the dirt.
“Baseball fields require constant maintenance and occasionally they need large-scale remodeling,” said John Boulland, PNLL player agent and one of the coordinators for the restoration. “Each year our fields lose between two and five tons of infield dirt, and major replenishments typically are required every five to seven years. It has been over 10 years since we’ve added infield dirt. This year we want to replenish and level all three of our infield surfaces.”
The Pacifica Tigersharks have generously offered to match up to $5,000 of donations received. The community Pop Warner football program is on hiatus now, awaiting a decision to see if it will eventually return. In the meantime, the Tigesharks Board of Directors is open to helping community organizations. Recently, Tigersharks donated $5,000 to the Pacifica Sports Club, sponsor of the Pacifica Sports Hall of Fame, which also honors local high school athletes at its annual Breakfast of Champions.
“Being that Tigersharks is
shutdown for now, we are looking at other organizations we might help,” said Mike Biancalana, the
Tigersharks president. “After all, we are all working toward the same goal of helping our local youths.”
Additional information about the fundraising can be found at PNLLfundraising@gmail.com.
Horace Hinshaw is Tribune sports editor emeritus.