Tustin PD joins loved ones, law enforcement community in celebrating life of Del Pickney
The police chief found the note in the late sergeant’s personnel file.
When an officer dies, it’s part of what a chief does — open the file.
Five of Delbert “Del” Glen Pickney’s closest colleagues had plenty to say about him at his memorial service Friday, March 2, at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills — including Tustin Chief Charlie Celano — but it was Pickney’s note, which he wrote to be read at his own funeral, that cut the deepest.
“These are Del’s words,” Celano said.
He began to read the letter:
I would like to thank everyone for coming today. There are a million things I would like to say, but I will keep it short because I realize Class A uniforms and funerals can be a little tedious.
Please don’t worry about me. I’ve gone to meet my Lord. My life’s journey is complete.
If I may request something from you, it’s to please do your best to ensure that Ryan and Rachel grow up to love the Lord. Please keep them safe, guide them in life with all your wisdom, and never let them forget how much their daddy loved them.
Celano paused, briefly overcome with emotion.
“I’m getting there,” he told the several hundreds officers, friends and loves ones in attendance at the March 2 service.
Ryan, 17, and Rachel, 14, sat in the front row of the worship hall next to their mother, Michele — Pickney’s wife of 21 years.
Pickney, who retired from the TPD in July 2017 after a nearly 29-year career, only to return to work as a part-time master reserve officer, died of a heart attack on Thursday, Feb. 22, while hiking with a friend on the Claremont Hills Wilderness Trail.
He took his last breath on a bench there.
Pickney was 51.
Pickney’s death blew a hole in the heart of the TPD, where he was known for many things, including surviving a previous massive heart attack while at work on March 3, 2015. Pickney was back at work after that brush with death on April 7, 2015.
He was a “Seinfeld” nut who would quote the seminal TV sitcom endlessly.
A history buff, collector of police and sports memorabilia and an avid debater, Pickney was known around the station as “The Oracle,” the guy who always seemed to have the right answers.
“He was Google before Google was Google,” Sgt. Ryan Coe said in his remarks. Pickney is the godfather of Coe’s children.
Most of all, Pickney was a devoted public servant whose legacy forever will loom large at the TPD.
An only child from Garden Grove, the son of Delbert and Sammie Pickney, Pickney, always athletic and an avid weightlifter, graduated from Westminster High School in 1984.
The following year, Pickney joined the Marine Corps, where he served in Okinawa, Japan and MCAS El Toro as an air traffic controller.
Pickney attained the rank of E-4 corporal by the time he was honorably discharged in May 1988. At the end of that year, he was sworn in as a Tustin PD officer.
As his colleagues attested at Friday’s memorial service, Pickney always gave his best on the job — and in life.
He remained a “cop’s cop” even after he became a supervisor when promoted to sergeant in 2000, Celano said.
“Officers who worked for Del over the years, many of whom are here today, would tell you they would follow him through the gates of hell, if that’s where he needed to go,” the chief said.
“That’s not because he let them get away with anything, or he was easy on them. It’s because of who Del was and the example he set, and ultimately how he treated his people.”
For 17 years, Pickney was a key member of the TPD’s Field Training Officer (FTO) program, either as a trainer of rookie cops or a sergeant who ran the unit.
Pickney, in fact, was Celano’s FTO.
Celano recalled being a “skinny, baby-faced” police officer getting ready for his graveyard shift when he met Pickney.
“Kid,” Pickney told Celano, “welcome to graveyards. Be ready to do battle.”
Along with close friend TPD Capt. Jeff Blair, Pickney created a nationwide police softball organization that through competitions has raised, to date, more than $50,000 for soldiers in Iraq, the Wounded Warriors Foundation and families of fallen officers.
Scores of Pickney’s softball brethren — jokingly referred to at the TPD as the “softball mafia’’ — showed up at the memorial service in softball jerseys splashed with Pickney’s number, 34. Some had flown in from Chicago, New Jersey, Miami and Detroit.
Pickney also was the brainchild of the TPD’s “Adopt-a-Complex” program, which now is a model for other law enforcement agencies around the country. The program partners officers with apartment communities to work with residents to make them safer.
One of Pickney’s favorite assignments at TPD was working narcotics and vice. On the first day of his promotion to that unit in 1992, Pickney and his partners seized 25 kilos of cocaine.
Pickney also was instrumental in getting the memorial for fallen TPD Officer Wally Karp built in front of the TPD station. Karp, 31, was shot to death while on duty in 1972.
In his remarks, Sgt. Sean Quinn said the one word that best described Pickney was “best.”
Quinn said after Pickney’s death he would be using that word much more sparingly because it embodies who Pickney was, including as a father.
“Del was the best cop I ever met,” said Quinn, who introduced Pickney to his future wife.
“He was the best street cop, he was the best community-engaged officer, he was the best supervisor — I learned so much from him,” Quinn said. “Del was the reason I became a police officer.”
Quinn choked up when he told Pickney’s daughters about how proud their father was of them.
Before Sgt. Jeffrey Taylor, the godfather of Pickney’s daughters, talked about Pickney’s deep relationship with Jesus Christ, Lt. John Strain told some funny stories about his late friend, including the time Pickney wanted him to get a tattoo — of Pickney’s face.
Strain declined the offer.
The lieutenant noted that Pickney had a tattoo of a peace sign wrapped in barbed wire — an image that captured the late sergeant.
“He was the kind of guy who could quote philosophy while punching you in the face,” Strain said.
Just before he left the podium, a tearful Strain – also an only child — said, “God gave me Del as the brother I never had.”
After the memorial service, attendees took turns at a microphone sharing stories about Pickney — Badge No. 712 — at a reception at Yanks Air Museum in Chino.
Before they departed to that venue, Celano, in his tribute to his late colleague and dear friend, continued reading Pickney’s funeral letter:
Please support Michele as she transitions into this new life. Michele has been my love, and she is and always will be my lobster.
Said Celano, over gentle laughter: “She knows what that means. I don’t know what that means, but she knows what that means.”
The chief continued reading Pickney’s letter.
To my friends in attendance, I probably didn’t tell you enough, but you all touched me in some way, and I would like to thank you for that.
To the police officers in attendance who did not know me but are here to support the law enforcement profession, please keep running toward danger while others flee from it. You are all my heroes for doing what you do.
Lastly, please don’t cry or be sad. You all have a chance to seize life today — everything it offers. Make the best of it, and God bless you all.
Pickney’s note ended with Scripture from John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believed in him will not perish, but have eternal life.
Celano folded up the note and prepared to leave the podium.
“Rest in peace, brother,” he said.
And then he walked away.
In this file photo, Sgt. Del Pickney of the Tustin Police Department talks about the heart attack he suffered in 2015 and his experiences coming back to work after his recovery.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC