Former Sheriff William (Bill) Kolender died at a local hospital Oct. 6 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80.
Kolender, born in Chicago in 1935, was elected the 28th sheriff of San Diego County in 1994 and was sworn into office in 1995. He was re-elected sheriff in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Kolender’s career in law enforcement first began as a patrol officer with the San Diego Police Department in 1956. The San Diego Police Museum says Kolender had just gotten out of the military and was looking for a job to help support his young family, not necessarily a long police career.
By 1965, he had worked his way up to lieutenant, and he was elected to serve as the president of the San Diego Police Officers Association. In 1970, he was appointed police department chief, serving in that office for 13 years.
After retiring from the department, Kolender served as director of the California Youth Authority, where he championed rehabilitation programs for the state's youngest serious offenders.
Kolender retired from the county in 2009 and, at 73 years old, was the oldest of California's 58 county sheriffs.
“Bill was one of the first to realize incarceration is not the complete answer to rehabilitation. Educational programs and re-entry initiatives were another of his innovations,” said current current county sheriff Bill Gore in a press release announcing Kolender’s passing.
Gore said Kolender was known for bringing law enforcement agencies together for the good of San Diego County. Kolender stressed that police officers should work closely with community groups, improve relationships with minorities and low-income neighborhoods and be restrained in the use of force – a style known as community-oriented policing. With Kolender as police chief, the department hired more women, gays and lesbians and began a civilian review board
“Bill set the standard for true partnership amongst agencies,” Gore noted. “When the chiefs and sheriff meet on a regular basis, egos are left at the door – a legacy from Bill Kolender.”
Described as a man who was “larger than life,” Gore said Kolender was most known for his “personal touch” in his leadership role. “When a deputy was injured, he could be counted on to be standing at the hospital bed,” Gore wrote.
The sheriff's office said Kolender often felt the hardest part of his job was to deliver news to a family that their loved one had been killed in the line of duty.
“He cared deeply for the frontline deputies and officers who worked for him and loved them as family. Thus, for many of us, this loss is deeply personal. It certainly is for me, as he has been a close friend of my family for many years. He delivered the eulogy at the funeral of assistant Police Chief William D. Gore, my father,” Gore added.
Looking back at his career with the police department, Kolender once told the museum he knew he had succeeded when a former employee told him, “I didn’t think you were worth a crap until you left.”
“It was actually the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” Kolender said.
Kolender is survived by his wife, Lois, sons Michael and Dennis, daughter Randie Kolender-Hock and stepdaughter Jodi Karas. A public memorial service is being planned.
– NBC 7