Retiring head of SF police union leaves huge legacy

June 3, 2013 7:04:54 PM PDT
After 35 years as a cop -- nine of them as head of the Police Officers Association -- Gary Delagnes has retired.

On his last day, the POA staff tried to keep it light. Delagnes walked to the Hall of Justice to be processed out.

"Thirty five years broken down to turning in your gun and your badge and saying goodbye," he said.

Delagnes is leaving behind quite a legacy. When he entered the POA as vice president in 1992, San Francisco was the 92nd best compensated police department in California.

Now, San Francisco officers are among the best paid in the country. Starting pay is $82,000 and police here retire at 90 percent of their salary.

And there's a growing respect for cops in the city. "Our last poll showed a 72 percent positive rating for police officers and that's the highest I've ever seen for any police department in the country, so we're doing something right," Delagnes said.

As POA president, Delagnes was like a bulldog -- tough and unrelenting when it came to protecting his family of cops.

"I say things that shock people but I think the reputation I built as a person who will tell you the truth and not sugar coat everything," he said.

Over the years, mayors and city officials asked privately for Delagnes's advice and support. But Delagnes also had his critics.

Public defender Jeff Adachi fought him over pension reform and police corruption cases. "When he said something, it was going to be big time wrestling. He was just going to throw himself at you and everything he had."

But even adversaries like Adachi admit Delagnes did his job well. "I doubt very much that we'll see another one like him in the years to come," he said.

In the hallway on his way out, Delagnes passed a picture of his recruit class taken in June 1978. "That will be the proudest moment of my life -- being a San Francisco police officer," he said.

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