When Tustin Police Sgt. Del Pickney died on Feb. 22, 2018, the department, and really the entire Tustin community, lost one of its most dedicated public servants.
In 29 years on the job, Pickney’s contributions were widespread, particularly in the world of police softball, where his efforts led to an international network of leagues and teams that today offer more than just softball.
Wanting to keep Pickney’s memory alive, Lt. Ryan Coe and Deputy Chief Jeff Blair organized the inaugural Del Pickney Memorial Softball Tournament, which was held April 26, the day that would have been Pickney’s 53rd birthday, at Big League Dreams Sports Park in Chino Hills.
“Del was such a huge presence in our police department and an amazing leader in our organization,” Coe said. “We wanted to make sure his name and legacy continued at the Tustin Police Department because of how much he’s done for the Tustin community and police department.”
Eighteen teams participated in the inaugural tournament, including squads from the Tustin, Orange, Anaheim, Irvine, and Los Angeles police departments.
The tournament will take place annually as a way to raise money for two $1,000 scholarships in Pickney’s name to a pair of Tustin high school seniors who are headed to college or the military.
“Del was just a great person,” Orange Police Sgt. Chris Moten said. “Everybody knew his heart. Everybody knew what he stood for.”
In 1994, Pickney and Blair formed a team of Tustin Police Department personnel that competed in a recreational league in the city.
A few years later, Pickney and Blair organized a team to compete in the California Police and Fire Games.
Pickney then got the idea to create a website (policesoftball.com) where law enforcement teams from around the country could promote their tournaments.
Tustin Police Department’s team joined with other Orange County police teams to form a team called the Orange County Alliance.
Los Angeles teams joined and the group morphed into the Southern California Alliance, which started a police softball world series which was held in Palm Springs.
After the first five years, the world series had grown so large that it relocated to Las Vegas.
The Southern California Alliance has become the nation’s most successful police softball team has won the world series six times, while no other team has won more than once, Blair said.
But policesoftball.com has become more than a place to promote softball.
“What Del brought to police softball was national exposure,” said Anaheim Police Sgt. Curt Ledesma, a longtime friend of Pickney. “Because of Del’s spirit and his hard work and his way to communicate with people all over the country, he’s really united (law enforcement) officers from all over the country. Any officer on the west coast can contact any officer in the country because of Del Pickney.”
Since personnel from different agencies have gotten to know each other through softball, communication between agencies in areas of police work has become easier.
In one instance, Coe was investigating a cold case homicide when a fingerprint hit led to a suspect who lived in Chicago. Coe had gotten to know Chicago Metro police officers through softball, which made reaching out to the agency for help that much easier, Coe said.
Chicago Metro performed surveillance on a house where the suspect was staying.
“A couple of weeks later, (we’re) on a plane to Chicago to interview the suspect,” Coe said. “We know (other agencies) through softball, but because we know them through softball, we’re able to better handle police investigations.”
Pickney would have been humbled to have a tournament and scholarship in his name, said his wife, Michele Pickney, who met her future husband on a blind date in 1995.
“What I think that Del loved was the community,” Michele Pickney said. “After his funeral, I said I kind of feel like this whole community has been Del’s gift to me. The support from across the country has been absolutely incredible.”