Jesse Garcia, a Minneapolis police sergeant who for years was the public face of the department as its chief spokesman, has died, the police union said Thursday.

Garcia, 48, had been suffering from advanced stomach cancer and had been on leave.

“He was the best PIO [public information officer] we ever had. … Everybody liked him. He was so pro-cop; he had a way of telling stories,” said Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, who called Garcia one of his best friends.

Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said Thursday that the department was undergoing “a difficult time” with the loss.

In February, Garcia announced his illness with a Facebook photo from a Mayo Clinic hospital bed and later declared he was going to “fight this sneaky disease.”

Kroll, who got to know Garcia from their time together in the Fifth Precinct and on the SWAT team, said the two originally bonded over their East Side St. Paul roots, though they went to rival high schools.

Kroll said in an interview Thursday that he remembered when Garcia told him about his cancer.

“He said, ‘I’m sick.’ I chuckled. I said ‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ ” Kroll said.

But then Garcia shared the seriousness of his illness. Still the optimist, Garcia reassured his friend that he had “a pretty good run, though.”

“We used to always say that he crammed 100 years of life into 50,” Kroll said.

Garcia was actively involved in the police union and color guard, Kroll said. Garcia, “JGAR3” to his friends (he was Jesse Garcia III), was a “funny guy” and always the source of entertainment, Kroll said.

Kroll last saw his friend on Tuesday. Kroll said Garcia, who had lost a lot of weight during his illness, asked him to squeeze his hand and massage his feet.

Garcia acted as a spokesman for the department for several years, handling news media inquiries and releasing information. He also arrived early at the scenes of sometimes violent incidents to brief reporters.

In March, Garcia sued the city, claiming he was transferred to a less prestigious assignment after questioning the investigation into a man standing next to Mayor Betsy Hodges in a well-publicized photo last fall, an incident dubbed “Pointergate.”

Garcia said he had been set to be transferred from robbery to the high-profile Violent Offender Task Force last November. Instead, he was transferred — despite outstanding job reviews — to the Third Precinct’s property crimes division. City officials said the move was legal and proper.

Garcia is survived by his children, Jesse IV, 19, and infant daughter Vienna, Kroll said.

Information about memorial services has not been released.