04/27/2006

Ohio police captain earns respect in 39 years

By MARILYN MILLER   
Beacon Journal

AKRON, Ohio — When Akron police officers are interviewed for promotions, the name Harold Craig comes up most often as the supervisor who has made the biggest impression on them.

That's the word from Akron Police Chief Michael Matulavich. "He is the supervisor who the majority of police officers say they would like to pattern their supervisory skills after," said Matulavich, who joined the department with Craig in 1967.

"He's a strong leader, fair and knowledgeable."

Capt. Harold J. Craig — who is retiring at 64 after nearly 39 years of service — will be feted at a retirement reception from 6 to 8 tonight at Anthe's, 4315 Manchester Road, New Franklin.

"The best time to retire is when you feel good about things," said Craig. "I had great sergeants and lieutenants. Everything was running like clockwork, like an extension of my arm."

He left a job at Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. to join the police force in 1967. He said he wanted to help people.

He also enjoyed a challenge.

His late father, James A. Craig — who was a police officer for 30 years before retiring in 1972 — was Akron's first black sergeant, in 1958, and was named officer of the year by a national magazine.

Craig said that although his father never pressured him to join the force, he did mention from time to time how good the job was.

Rather, Harold Craig's pressure came from the street. "People would say, 'You'll never be the cop your daddy was,'" he recounted. Ironically, those same people did take notice — they later told him on many occasions that he was a good cop.

Craig first took the police test in 1964 and placed ninth, high enough to get hired in most years. But in 1964, police officers were laid off, and no one was hired.

Craig took the test again three years later, and he then took the oath with 49 other officers.

Colleagues' praise
Fellow police officers said Craig always had the public in mind and was always concerned about "the troops" who worked for him. Those under his command said he always had their best interest at heart.

"He'd watch out for you. He always had your back," said Lt. Charles Brown. "If you listened, you learned from him. He taught you the right way to do things."

Craig was the first commander of the SNUD (Street Narcotics Uniform Detail), a unit he named and started in 1991.

"It was the dream job that most cops envied because we did things that most people join the force to do —  chase down crooks, bust down doors and get the bad guys," Craig said.

Donnie Williams, now the senior detective in the unit, described his former boss as a hard worker who was easy to work with because he understood people and situations. Craig was someone who always remained focus on doing his job, Williams said.

"He was a working commander. He wasn't the type to sit back and just give orders," said Williams. "He was out there tooth and nail with us chasing down people, doing all the dirty jobs *with *us."

Harold Craig earned respect from the officers and the community.

"He knew a lot of people and treated them all with respect no matter what station of life," Williams said. "I used to be amazed at all the people he had arrested in the past who would call or come down to the station to give him information on a case. They didn't hold grudges."

"He'd say, `If you respect the job, the job will respect you,"' Williams added.

Craig also taught on the job.

"He'd always take you to the side if you made a mistake. He never embarrassed or bullied you," said Maj. Gus Hall. "He was my first sergeant. He was my mentor throughout my career. He was the type of guy who would take you under his wing and keep you on the straight and narrow path."

"He treated you like a man," said Detective Frank Martucci Jr. "You were never afraid to go to him."

Halloween roundup
One of Craig's favorite sayings was "Don't mess with the buzz saw that's busy cutting wood." In other words, don't interfere with the unit when it's doing its job.

Officers recalled the Halloween night they all dressed up in costumes and rode around in a limousine. One of the officers dressed as the chauffeur. They pulled up alongside guys selling dope on street corners and asked where they could make a drug buy. The officers offered to take the lookout to a drug house. When the seller got into the limo, the chauffeur locked the doors.

*Bad Boys*, the theme song of the TV show *Cops*, was often blared in the neighborhood after the unit's drug arrests. Onlookers clapped and cheered when drug dealers were taken off the street.

The fondest memory comes from Craig's wife, Eunice, a former secretary in police community relations. She recalled the first time she saw her husband of 35 years. "He rode a motorcycle. He was sleek and debonair and always smiling."

"Our joke was always who will be the one to turn out the light," said Chief Matulavich. "I guess it's me, I'm the only one left out of our recruiting class. We did well with Harold on the police force. He was good for the department. It was a good fit."

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