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Bill Robinson, 64; Police Spokesman in San Diego

November 25, 2005|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Bill Robinson, a former Marine who for nearly three decades worked as a public information officer for the San Diego Police Department, died late Wednesday of cancer. He was 64.

Robinson bridged the sometimes contentious relationship between the police and the media and served as police spokesman during some of the city's most traumatic moments, including controversial officer-involved shootings, the 1978 crash of PSA Flight 182 and the 1984 massacre at a McDonald's restaurant.

When he retired in 2004, Robinson received a lifetime achievement award from the San Diego Press Club, whose members praised his efforts to help them get information. He preferred that reporters speak directly to officers rather than take their information solely from releases.

"He was always honest, always responsive, always helpful, and he always had a joke or two to tell," said Cliff Albert, news director at KOGO-AM (600).

Born in Abilene, Texas, he served four years in the Marine Corps and graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in mass communications.

He joined San Diego's Model Cities Program and then became the public information officer for the Police Department in 1975.

At the time, it was a rarity for a civilian to act in that capacity. Robinson said later it was not easy to win the confidence of police officers.

But within a few years he was asked to lecture at the San Diego Police Academy about dealing with the media; other local departments began copying his open-door policy.

Although Robinson believed the Police Department should be open even to inquiries that were not likely to please the chief, he also upbraided reporters for making errors or for misunderstanding the difficulties of police work.

He told San Diego Magazine that his belief in a free press dated from his youthful days as a newspaper carrier in Abilene.

"One day I was folding newspapers. This columnist walked into the circulation room and said, 'Hurry up and get these papers out. People are hungry for news,' " he said. "I never forgot that."

Robinson's marriage to Raquel Martinez, a bullfighter, ended in divorce. He is survived by their son, Scott Robinson, of San Diego.

Visitation will be Tuesday from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Little Chapel of the Roses at Glen Abbey Memorial Park in Bonita. The funeral is set for noon Wednesday at the same location.

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