SFPD gay Captain Del Gandio makes history
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Captain Christopher Del Gandio has made history as the first out gay man to make that rank with the San Francisco Police Department. He is also currently the highest-ranking out LGBTQ police officer in the department.
Former police commander Teresa Ewins, a lesbian who had served with SFPD for 26 years, had that distinction until she left last year to become chief of police in Lincoln, Nebraska. At the moment the highest-ranking LGBTQ person in the department is Matt Dorsey, a gay civilian who is director of strategic communications and part of SFPD Chief William Scott's command staff.
In a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Del Gandio said reaching the promotional milestone in the department "feels great."
"There may have been some gay men before me possibly who made it but didn't feel comfortable being out and proud, so I may not be the first," he noted. "But to be openly gay from the start, with the work I put in and representing the community and also working very hard at my job to get here, it feels like a milestone for sure."
SFPD Lieutenant Lisa Frazer, a lesbian who at one time was a beat officer in the LGBTQ Castro district, hailed Del Gandio's breaking through the glass ceiling at the department in an interview with the B.A.R. She and Del Gandio in 2017 were both promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
"He is a really nice guy. I am really glad he is the first," said Frazer, who now works out of San Francisco International Airport. "It is the highest rank any gay man has been promoted to in the history of SFPD."
Del Gandio has been undergoing training to become a captain and his assignment overseeing one of the department's 10 district stations will become official Saturday, January 29. As of the B.A.R.'s press deadline January 19, he had yet to be told where he would be placed as captain.
The native of Teaneck, New Jersey, who will turn 42 on January 22, moved to San Francisco in December 2007 after being accepted into an SFPD academy class. He is the first in his family to seek a law enforcement career.
"It sounds cliché, but I really love helping people and sort of felt in myself a fierce advocate, especially for those who needed it most," said Del Gandio, who graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in administration of justice. "I just really felt like a calling, I would say, to go out there and help people, especially our most vulnerable folks."
He had worked for a small police department in the Garden State as a dispatcher and police service aide. After college he was employed as a probation officer, and a friend who was hired as a paramedic in Santa Cruz invited him to visit. They came up to San Francisco, and due to Del Gandio being allergic to cats, he ended up sleeping on a rooftop patio overlooking the Castro.
"It was a magical moment for me; I really loved this place," he recalled. "On the East Coast the only large agency is the NYPD. I didn't want to stay in New York for the rest of my life, so I thought, 'Why not make a big change? If I am going to do it, might as well do it now.'"
This is Del Gandio's third promotion in the department. After making lieutenant he was assigned to Mission Station, which is responsible for patrolling much of the city's LGBTQ Castro district.
He then was assigned to the community engagement division at the station before being sent to Central Station, which covers the city's tourist areas like Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. Most recently he had been its night watch commander overseeing the swing shift.
He had passed his captain's test in July 2020 and ended up ranked ninth in line to be promoted once a captain's position became available. Last January six people on the list became captain, and now Del Gandio is among the next group to advance.
"I think working with the community and the police department we can move toward a greater future," he said. "I really want to be a part of that."
Sergeant Nicholas C. Buckley, a gay man who has been with SFPD almost 16 years and is president of its Pride Alliance for LGBTQ officers, worked with Del Gandio a decade ago when they were both assigned to Mission Station.
"I know Chris has done a lot through the department. I know he deserves it, so we are very happy for him," said Buckley, adding that "the Pride Alliance is very supportive of him and we are very happy he made this new accomplishment and hope he can continue moving forward up the ranks."
Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who has fought to fund police academy classes in order to replenish the department's ranks, told the B.A.R. he was surprised to learn that Del Gandio is the first known gay officer to become a captain with the SFPD. He said he had "enjoyed working with him" in the past and looked forward to doing so again should he be assigned to a district station that covers part of his supervisorial district.
"I am honestly surprised that he is the first and am glad it has finally happened," said Mandelman. "Wherever he goes, this is historic for the LGBTQ community and it signifies a lot of positive change at SFPD. It is overdue, but it is a pretty great moment for the San Francisco Police Department and for San Francisco."
Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has long known Del Gandio, calling him "awesome" and "just a lovely person" in an interview.
"He is a hardworking officer and very community oriented. I am just thrilled for him and for the community and for the city that he has been promoted to captain," said Wiener.
There are more than 80 out officers in the department, including transgender members, Buckley told the B.A.R., plus a few more closeted officers. Lesbians outnumber gay men, though exact numbers are not known at the moment.
"We need more representation of the LGBTQ members to be higher-ranking members of our department," said Buckley, who became a sergeant in 2016 and plans at some point to seek to become a lieutenant.
Frazer noted that the department "lost a huge group of" gay men in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Despite SFPD's efforts to recruit new officers within the LGBTQ community over the years, from advertising in LGBTQ publications to having booths at community events, fewer gay men have joined the ranks than that of female-identified officers.
"Women were always strong and there are a lot of openly trans officers now," said Frazer. "But our gay men never caught up because of the AIDS crisis."
Gay men seem to gravitate to other professions and career choices, said Del Gandio. Some applicants may not pass the required drug testing, he added, due to past recreational usage at a gay dance event or other gathering where such activity is accepted.
"We recruit in all sorts of different communities; I think we are really good about that," he said. "It is just about getting people to sign up. We can recruit all we want, but sometimes getting the buy-in is difficult."
In his youth he doubted he could be an openly gay man and a police officer, said Del Gandio, leading him to think about pursuing a different career.
"I just decided I was going to do it — be an openly gay man and represent my community and also do the job that I love," said Del Gandio, who for a year has been with his boyfriend, Billy Hackenson, who works in tech. "My experience has been really excellent in the San Francisco Police Department I have to say."
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