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It's Legacy Time for Gary Delagnes

May 1, 2013
Paul Chignell
Legal Defense Administrator

by Paul Chignell, Legal Defense Administrator, SFPOA

At the end of May 2013, Gary Delagnes will retire from the San Francisco Police Department, and thereby vacate his post as President of the San Francisco Police Officers' Association (POA). He will leave after nine (9) years as the longest serving President of the POA since the organization's inception in 1946. More importantly than his tenure is the fact that he is without a doubt the most successful and productive leader in POA history. His accomplishments for the membership are the stuff of legends. The May and June issues of the POA Journal will have articles from members citing Gary’s successes. The following is mine.


The legacy of leadership of our union in the last forty-five years includes the names of Jerry D'Arcy, Jerry Crowley, Bob Barry, Al Casciato, yours truly, Mike Keys, Al Trigueiro, Chris Cunnie, and Gary. Some of our leaders have contributed greatly, and others not as much. But Delagnes has transcended all with his tenacity, aggressiveness, ability to adapt, keen negotiation skills, and ability to surround himself with key allies from the ranks of the membership. A look at two of the best from the past will put Gary’s legacy in perspective.

Jerry D'Arcy opened up the POA to the full membership and stood tall during the early 1970s when many police officers were gunned down in the line of duty. He also changed the culture of the San Francisco Police Department by leading the way for civil service reform, including examinations for the Bureau of Inspectors as opposed to the prior system of patronage.

Jerry Crowley led the way for the first of two historic contracts in 1971 and 1974. He also was at the helm during the fight for the Public Safety Officers' Procedural Bill of Rights fight in Sacramento, and had the courage to lead a three day police strike to garner a deserved pay raise in 1975.

Gary Delagnes studied those great leaders of the past including, President Chris Cunnie who Gary served as an able Vice-President. Delagnes took the positive actions of the past and the mistakes, and then guided the organization to a standard and level never imagined. His keen sense of negotiation within a liberal political climate resulted in huge financial rewards for the membership, vaulting San Francisco from the depths to one of the highest paid police agencies in America. Today, police union leaders across California and throughout the United States have commented with awe at our salaries, benefits, and pensions.


One of the unique qualities that effective leaders possess is the ability to adapt. Gary began his POA elective career as one who disdained the political leadership of San Francisco. His philosophy evolved over the years as he saw that coalitions with organized labor and progressive politicians were not just necessary to provide resources for the membership, but it was the right thing to do. Gary never became a wild-eyed liberal, but he became increasingly understanding about the motivation of union busting billionaires and the fact that many liberals would also meet the police halfway if we just communicated with them. His pragmatism in dealing with the community and City Hall made him even more effective at the bargaining table, as well as in the halls of Sacramento. He can point with pride to his brand of leadership, which rarely resulted in any inimical local or statewide legislation.


Gary will be the first to admit that his often bombastic and aggressive posture cuts both ways. He rarely appreciates dissent within the ranks, and has no absence of critics as a result of that quirk. However, there are a lot of cops who have suffered his brickbats and strident views that have grown to forgive him. It is not just about "the ends justify the means" in his march to success on projects or contentious issues, but that in the tough world of union politics, leadership sometimes means staying the course and working towards a goal. Delagnes has mastered that philosophy over the years. When he wants to accomplish something significant for the membership, he will fight and claw and maneuver around those who dissent or oppose him. That is who Gary Delagnes is.


Leading the most effective and respected police union in the United States -- in a city that does not always wholeheartedly embrace police officers -- is a daunting task. After all, there is more to holding together and tenaciously defending the membership besides financial gains in labor contracts. That is where Gary Delagnes is the master.

All of the above listed POA Presidents defended police officers under attack. But, as with contract negotiations or proposed legislation that could thwart the ability of police officers to do their job, Delagnes was always crisply articulate and intimidating to our detractors. The "thin blue line" is a term from the 1960s, but it is still applicable today.

Too often politicians, bureaucrats, or those representing investigatory agencies take potshots at working police officers. Most San Franciscans support the hard work that we do on a daily basis. But unfortunately, they don't always speak up when we are under attack. Delagnes appreciates the "thin blue line." He understands that if he doesn't speak up, those who take cheap shots at his members will get away with it again and again. He is well aware that he is the leader and face of the POA, and that if he does not defend his members no one else is likely to do so. Over the years, I have heard or read many agenda-driven verbal or printed bombs lobbed at San Francisco police officers. Gary has always gone after such opportunists with a vengeance. He does not suffer fools lightly. The best police union leaders will always defend police officers, and that is an inherent characteristic of the Delagnes DNA. 


A major component of leadership is the legacy. Gary leaves an organization unparallel in police union largesse. That largesse provides abundant financial resources necessary to defend the members, and provide for officers in need. POA benevolence strengthens our relationships with the communities we serve, and with the civic leaders who represent those neighborhoods and groups.

That largesse is also an active and vibrant Executive Board that aptly contends with the inevitable struggles, trials, tribulations, and joys of the future for members of the San Francisco Police Department. Marty Halloran will soon be the new President, and his newly reconfigured Executive Board team is ready to serve.

The Board of Directors of the POA is a hard working and representative group that will serve the membership well. The office staff, led by Cyndee Bates, and the Defense Representatives, the latter toiling at OCC and IAD almost daily, are key components.

What is the common denominator? Gary Delagnes is the leader who, with the able assistance of his team, has transformed our union into a vibrant voice for attaining benefits for the membership. His leadership has also provided for stalwart representation at all levels of the discipline process.

At the risk of alienating many other deserving friends and colleagues, I want to mention a few of the top-notch Executive Board members of the past: Dan Linehan, Kevin Martin, Steve Johnson, Phil Dito, Joe Patterson, Reno Rapagnani, Ron Parenti, Mike Hebel, and Jack Minkel. Gary Delagnes did not always agree with these leaders, but he did learn from them and build on their various legacies. Their successes have allowed Gary to establish an infrastructure that will serve the membership well into the future.

Observing him now in his remaining month as POA President has been a bittersweet experience. He still picks up the phone and resolves problems small and large. He phones city officials and can cut through the red tape that would require legal action to resolve from less-connected persons. He visits members in detoxification centers and gives them hope and tells them to persevere. He fights to maintain principles of the past, such as our seniority based transfer system. This tough union leader, with accomplishments under his belt that many envy still, continues fighting for the membership each and every day.


Gary and I have never been bosom buddies. But the mutual respect, despite vast differences of opinion in the early days, has endured. I was full of chagrin in 1989 when he challenged me for the Vice-Presidency of the POA in his maiden voyage of POA politics. Luckily for me, I defeated Gary by a handful of votes in a runoff election. But the handwriting was on the wall. Two years later he would have easily defeated me, and I graciously did not run for re-election. He then started a run as a POA leader that has been more than significant for us all.

This guy Delagnes is only in his 50s---a young man. He has been the best the POA has to offer and the future is his. We have been very fortunate to have this man at the helm. When I think of the names Jerry D'Arcy, Jerry Crowley and Bob Barry--- all my mentors -- I know they would agree that Gary Delagnes is the best leader this POA has ever had.