As both a West Palm Beach police officer and a union boss, Ernie George made plenty of friends but also took part in plenty of tough negotiations.
Now George, who retired from the force in 2005, is part of the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame. He’s one of five people inducted Saturday at the state capitol in Tallahassee, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The Hall of Fame, founded in 2014 by the Legislature, has inducted five members each of its first three years. George is the first of the 15 to be from Palm Beach County.
“It’s a great honor,” he said Monday. “To be one of only five chosen in the state.”
George, now 71,served his entire career with West Palm Beach police, starting in 1975. In the 1980s, he was a DARE officer, educating elementary school children about drugs. In January 1996, he was promoted to sergeant.
While he never rose above that rank, he was one of the department’s most influential officers; from 1987 to 2006, George was active in the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association; he was its president the last 10 years. He also was the state PBA president from 1998 to 2006. The state PBA represents about 28,000 officers in about 140 units.
George also served on the state’s Criminal Justice and Standards Training Commission from 2001 to 2013, the last three years as chairman.
The 6-feet-4-inch George won a football scholarship to Bowling Green University in western Ohio, where he was an all-conference tackle. He tried out for the Cleveland Browns in 1968, but was not fast enough for the National Football League.
After two years of teaching and coaching high school football, George moved to Florida as a tire company manager. When the company wanted to transfer him to another city, he instead joined the police force.
In 1986, the local PBA chapter had barely 200 members “and no clue what we were doing,” George told The Palm Beach Post in 2005 for a story on his retirement from the force. “We knew nothing about labor law or anything. We had a Broward County attorney on retainer.” By the time he retired, the PBA had more than 3,000 local members.
Despite George’s many tough negotiations, “when you get to know him behind the job, he’s just a big teddy bear,” former Mayor Nancy Graham said in 2005. “He knows when his job requires him to defend something that otherwise he may not defend with that much vigor.”
As PBA president, George worked to attain legislation creating uniform guidelines for the use of dart-firing stun guns, a deferment retirement option program (DROP), and improving officer death benefits.
Saturday’s other four inductees were Robert E. Blackburn, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office; Donald F. Eslinger, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office; Frederick A. Maas, Sunny Isles Beach Police Department; and James W. Smith, Miami Beach Police Department.