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OBITURIES | Bob Burgreen, 1938 - 2007

Lawman ran San Diego force from '88 to '93

December 29, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

Bob Burgreen, San Diego police chief from 1988 to 1993, died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a week after receiving a lung transplant. He was 69.

Despite his folksy, informal manner, Burgreen was exceedingly adept at managing a large police department, dealing with community groups and pleasing the various political interests on the City Council during an era when crime was a major issue.

He had been the assistant chief to longtime Chief Bill Kolender. Kolender, now the San Diego County sheriff, had a sophisticated aura, looked good in a tuxedo and mixed socially with the La Jolla in-crowd.

Burgreen was none of those things. When he got the top job in 1988 he promised never to be seen in a tuxedo. But he continued and expanded Kolender's innovations in community-oriented policing and got high marks from politicians, the media and minority leaders.

He was given to straight talk, once decrying rowdiness in the stands at San Diego Padres baseball games by saying that his wife could whip the scrawny security guards hired by the team.

Born in Carlsbad in 1938, Burgreen graduated in 1956 from Helix High School in La Mesa and attended San Diego State before joining the San Diego police department. He later received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of La Verne.

As chief, he was enmeshed in controversy over police shootings. He led the department to adopt non-lethal means to subdue suspects, but still backed officers who used deadly force. The number of officer-involved shootings in the city dropped by half during his tenure.

And he may have been one of the few big-city police chiefs to have a listed home phone number and address.

Burgreen was a police chief in the San Diego model. Unlike Los Angeles, where the chief has a contract and occasionally clashes with elected officials, the police chief in Burgreen's era worked for the city manager, with only a handshake for security.

After 32 years with the department, Burgreen retired from San Diego in 1993 to move to Arkansas and indulge his passion for bass fishing. But he became restless and three years later took a chief's job in Longview, Wash., a town of 35,000 near the Oregon border.

He retired from the Longview job in 2004. He and his wife, Kathy, moved to Palm Desert, Calif., but a lung infection sapped his energy.

Kolender said he spoke to Burgreen on Wednesday and found him in good spirits. Like others, Kolender praised Burgreen's work as chief.

"Bob had a unique capability for seeing what needed to be done and carrying it through," Kolender said.

Survivors include his wife and a daughter. Services are pending.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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