Glen Craig, a former Sacramento County sheriff and California Highway Patrol commissioner, died Friday in Arizona.
Craig’s son Kevin Craig said his father was playing golf with friends when he suffered an aortic aneurism. He died in Phoenix with his wife and children at his side. Kevin Craig said his father would have turned 82 on Jan. 8.
Friends and former colleagues said they were stunned to learn of his death.
Lou Blanas, who succeeded Craig as sheriff, said he had talked with his friend and former boss by phone on Christmas.
“I’m devastated,” Blanas said. “He was one of the best top administrators in the history of the state.”
Glen Craig retired as sheriff in January 1999, after leading the department for 12 years. His tenure as sheriff capped a 44-year-career in law enforcement that began with the Visalia Police Department after his discharge from the military in 1955. He moved on to the California Highway Patrol and was appointed commissioner in 1975, a position he held for eight years.
“I was Jerry Brown’s token Republican,” he said of his appointment as CHP commissioner by the Democratic governor in a 1998 interview with The Sacramento Bee.
Craig was appointed director of the state Department of Justice Division of Law Enforcement in 1983, and established the agency’s groundbreaking computerized fingerprint system.
He won the Sacramento County sheriff’s job from incumbent Robbie Waters in 1986.
Craig was widely praised for his administrative abilities. “He would have been a great leader in whatever field he would have chosen,” said former Sheriff John McGinness, who served as Craig’s media spokesman.
Craig’s key traits were honesty and sincerity, McGinness said.
“Law enforcement, by its very nature, is riddled with conflict,” McGinness said. “He had a unique ability to engage with groups or individuals who saw things differently and to convey his message sincerely, and often win them over.”
In the 1998 interview with The Bee, shortly before his retirement, Craig listed the establishment of the department’s 11 community policing service centers as the hallmark of his 12 years as sheriff. The centers were launched in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots that exploded following the acquittal of the officers charged in the Rodney King beating.
After watching Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates and community leaders on television during the riots, Craig recalled saying “‘These people don’t talk to each other.’ What I saw was the perception, by both the community leaders and the police, that the police were like an occupying army in certain parts of the city. The next day, I told people we may not be that far away from having that same thing happen here. That’s when we started the plans for our first service center in Rancho Cordova.”
Craig said his most difficult call came on April 4, 1991, when four gunmen took 41 hostages in a Good Guys electronics store. When one of the gunmen shot a hostage in the leg, Craig ordered an assault to end the 81/2-hour siege. Six people died, including three hostages.
“You look at it and you say you always want for nobody to get hurt or killed,” Craig said in the 1998 interview. “You wait as along as you can. You hope everything goes perfect, so no innocent people are killed. That’s one that didn’t work out that way, and you live with it for a long time. You live with it for the rest of your life.”
Gary Beutler, owner of Sacramento-based Beutler Corp., said he had known Craig for about 30 years and often played golf with him. He said he was impressed with Craig’s good humor, honesty and desire to take care of everybody.
“He was one of those guys who wanted things to be win-win,” Beutler said. “If the other person didn’t win, he didn’t win either.”
Following his retirement, Craig, a Rancho Murieta resident, also spent several months each year in Chandler, Ariz.
Kevin Craig said his father never really retired, but continued to work as a consultant for several different groups. “He was still active on the phone and the computer,” he said.
In addition to his son Kevin, of Ahwatukee, Ariz., Craig leaves his wife, Dorothy, daughter Deborah Rousseau of Scotts Valley, four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
“He was a great dad, a great businessman and a great mentor,” Kevin Craig said of his father. “He taught me a lot about life and about business. He and my mother were married 63 years. That’s an anomaly. He was a great role model.”
Kevin Craig said services are pending and will be held in the Sacramento area.
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.