Battle Brews Within San Francisco Police Union Over Leadership Style

Less than two years after saying he would abandon the “bombastic style” of his predecessors, the president of San Francisco’s police union could be ousted over his new approach to leading the embattled association.

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tony Montoya and three members of his leadership team will have challengers when they run for re-election in January, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

When he became president in May 2018, Montoya said he would be more thoughtful and work more closely with City Hall than former SFPOA presidents Gary Delagnes and Martin Halloran, who earned reputations for being brash and opposing police reforms.

But one of his predecessors said the collaborative approach has not been successful.

“When we left, Tony made it really clear that it was going to be a kinder, gentler POA,” Delagnes said. “He tried the new way here and it’s culminated in members of the Board of Supervisors yelling ‘F— the POA,’ so I am a little dubious that this new style is working.”

Delagnes was referring to the anti-police union chant led by Supervisor Sandra Fewer on election night after the SFPOA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing District Attorney-elect Chesa Boudin in the contest.

“In San Francisco you have to fight for everything you get,” Delagnes said. “The POA is being used as a punching bag, and it’s a little old. I just don’t think that the current leadership is aggressive enough.”

Delagnes said he has endorsed a slate of candidates including newly promoted Sgt. Rich Cibotti to run against Montoya and his team. The other candidates are said to be officers Kevin Lyons for vice president, Kevin Worrell for secretary and Louis Wong for treasurer.

Montoya fired back at Delagnes in an email to the Examiner.

Montoya said Delagnes is bitter about the SFPOA executive board voting to fire him from his role as a consultant in March after he publicly accused the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi of being “a serial adulterer” on Facebook.

“Gary should remember that projecting leadership and strength must include a dose of humility and a continuous re-evaluation of what’s in the best interests of our members,” Montoya said. “I am proud of what our board has accomplished and what our membership does every day to try and keep our city safe.”

Montoya said the current leadership team has “put the membership first and has delivered results” including working with City Hall to obtain “longevity pay raises for our members.”

“Gary appears more interested in settling years old personal vendettas, seeing his name appear in the media and looking for validation in his retirement,” Montoya said. “The POA will stay focused on delivering results for our membership and will not be sidetracked by anyone groveling for relevancy.”

While Montoya may be working to repair the union’s relationships with City Hall, critics question whether the SFPOA has actually changed its ways under his leadership.

In May, Montoya called on Police Chief Bill Scott to resign after he blamed investigators for widely condemned raids on a journalist.

Then the union joined other law enforcement groups in spending more than $650,000 to oppose Boudin in the Nov. 5 election.

“I don’t know how anyone can look at the extreme hit job and the mailers and the ads they ran in the DA’s race and think that is kinder and gentler,” said retired ACLU attorney John Crew. “There seems to be broad consensus that that was extreme and over the top and ultimately backfired.”

On the other hand, Supervisor Hillary Ronen acknowledged earlier this month that she had sat down with Montoya, marking the first time she had a meeting with the SFPOA.

“I thought we were going to be able to move forward as professionals,” Ronen said at a press conference condemning the anti-Boudin ads. “[To] be able to disagree and speak about those disagreements in thoughtful ways. But this unprecedented spending on lie after lie after lie sets us backwards.”

Crew, who has been a frequent critic of the SFPOA, said the union has “completely squandered” its political clout in recent years.

“The question for the next generation of San Francisco police officers is, do they want a relationship with the people of San Francisco that is new and productive and collaborative, even if there are disagreements?” Crew said. “Or do they want to follow the example of the old guard which has not served them well?”

Cibotti confirmed he is running against Montoya but declined to comment further until the election is decided.

“This is a union matter and I believe it should stay amongst the members,” Cibotti said.

In addition to being an officer, Cibotti is an attorney and has represented officers accused of discipline on behalf of the SFPOA.

He regularly writes articles for the SFPOA Journal, including one in which he criticized the police watchdog Department of Police Accountability for going “after cops for any and all possible violations.”

In another, Cibotti took jabs at the Board of Supervisors for passing new guidelines for referring to convicted felons as “justice-involved persons.”


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