Bill Habkirk, a former CHP officer who helped transform the Santa Rosa Police Department, dies at 79
Whenever Sal Rosano is credited
with making a modern, professional law-enforcement agency of the Santa
Rosa Police Department, the retired chief will likely say he had
indispensable help — certainly that of Bill Habkirk. See a photo of Bill here.
“I couldn’t have done it without
Bill,” said Rosano, who in the early 1970s initiated the transformation
of Santa Rosa’s small-town, informally regulated police force.
“He was my right-hand man,” Rosano
said of Habkirk, whose work as a CHP officer had been terminated by an
injury when he became a civilian administrator with the SRPD.
Through his 21 years with the city,
Habkirk’s contributions included a lead role in the building of the
police-fire headquarters in 1982 and in the training and directing of
all SRPD employees who weren’t officers.
An agreeable and modest man grateful
to the first responders who saved him when he suffered cardiac arrest
after a high-school football game in 1988, Habkirk died Tuesday at his
Santa Rosa home. He was 79.
William Ronald Habkirk was born in
Michigan and as a young man served in the Air Force, and then went to
work managing a paint store in his home state. He had moved to
California and married Rosalie Krankel, a nurse he’d met on a blind
date, when he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement.
He became a CHP officer in 1966.
“His first assignment was in San Francisco,” Rosie Habkirk said. “He worked the Bay Bridge.”
Bill Habkirk had been a patrol officer
only a few years when, while working in Santa Clara County, he badly
injured his back on the job. He took a disability retirement and then
enrolled at San Jose State College, earning a degree in criminal
Focusing on police administration,
finance and management, Habkirk worked for a time for Sunnyvale before
he was hired onto the South San Francisco Police Department by
then-chief Sal Rosano.
In 1974, Santa Rosa hired Rosano to
succeed retired police chief Melvin “Dutch” Flohr, a generally beloved,
autocratic, larger-than-life lawman who since 1940 had run the town
pretty much as though he owned it.
Rosano recalled as the new chief, “It didn’t take me long to figure out I needed help.”
Santa Rosa’s police department was
understaffed, inadequately equipped, seriously lacking in written
standards and procedures, and behind the times. Rosano hired Habkirk to
help him expand and professionalize the department. Habkirk became
indispensable to the chief’s efforts in demonstrating to the city
manager at the time, Ken Blackman, and to the City Council that the
less than $1 million spent on the Police Department wasn’t nearly
“Bill always knew where to find the
money,” Rosano said. With Habkirk’s help, Rosano grew and modernized
the department and for years increased the budget by about $1 million a
Habkirk became a division commander
responsible for overseeing the communications center, the crime-scene
technicians and all other functions outside of patrol and
investigations. Rosano said Habkirk also oversaw the departmental
budget and purchasing of everything “from toilet paper to police cars.”
Beyond his value as a leader, Habkirk was a joy to work with, Rosano
“He was a very quiet, gentlemanly guy,
never raised his voice. Never blew his own horn. Very easy to get along
with, very smart.”
Habkirk was 48 years old when, on Nov.
12, 1988, he collapsed after helping to officiate a football game at
Montgomery High School. A nurse who happened to be nearby hurried to
him and began CPR.
One of Habkirk’s six children, Denise
Hinkson, of Antelope in Sacramento County, said she shudders to imagine
what might have happened had the cardiac arrest occurred minutes later,
when her father was driving home from the game alone.
Though Habkirk recovered and returned
to work, his wife in Santa Rosa said that in recent years “his heart
gradually just got a little worse.”
After his retirement from the SRPD in
1996, Habkirk enjoyed time with his family and on the golf course. He
also volunteered for years at the Luther Burbank Center for Arts.
He also is survived by daughter Debbie
Habkirk of Denver; sons Stephen Habkirk of Petaluma, James Habkirk of
Washougal, Washington, Duane Habkirk of Santa Rosa and David Habkirk of
Sonoma; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Rose Catholic Church.
Habkirk’s family suggests in lieu of
flowers memorial donations be made to Catholic Charities, P.O. Box
4900, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, or srcharities.org; or to Sutter Hospice,
110 Stony Point Road, Suite 200C, Santa Rosa, CA 95401.
For information about Bill HABKIRK's ancestors, go here
Our thanks goes to Chris Smith and the Press Democrat for this article about cousin Bill HABKIRK