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Public Safety

Memorial To Honor Former San Diego Police Chief, County Sheriff Bill Kolender

Bill Kolender is pictured in this undated photo.
Bill Kolender is pictured in this undated photo.

Family, friends and former law enforcement comrades will gather Friday to honor the life and achievements of Bill Kolender, a San Diego law enforcement icon who served lengthy and notable stints as police chief and county sheriff.

The afternoon memorial service for Kolender, who died Oct. 6 at age 80 following a protracted struggle with Alzheimer's disease, will take place in a base theater at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

The Chicago native and San Diego State University graduate was a venerable local lawman. He joined the San Diego Police Department in 1956 at age 21 and five years later became one of the agency's youngest sergeants. He continued rising rapidly through the SDPD's ranks, taking over as chief in 1976.

Kolender is widely recognized as an early champion of community-oriented policing. Early in his tenure as chief, he sought to outlaw racism and sexism in the ranks of the SDPD, promising to fire violators following a second offense, according to the San Diego Police Historical Association.

In the early 1980s, he established the agency's service-dog program.

After retiring from the department in 1988, he worked for a time as an assistant publisher for the Union-Tribune. In 1991, he was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson as a director of the California Youth Authority. In the role, he lobbied for rehabilitation programs for youthful offenders.

Kolender was sworn in as San Diego County sheriff in 1995 and went on to be re-elected to the post three times.

Among his first and primary achievements with the county agency following the divisive election he won was overcoming "the challenge of bringing together the department and turning it into a professional team with a common purpose and shared mission," current Sheriff Bill Gore said.

Kolender wound up stepping down two years before the end of his final term, citing a need to care for his ailing wife, Lois.

In addition to his spouse, Kolender is survived by his sons, Dennis and Michael; daughter, Randie Kolender-Hock; and stepdaughter Jodi Karas.

His family requests memorial donations in lieu of flowers to the Alzheimer's Association.