Longtime police officer, detective gets ready to call it a career soon

The shoes of Lt. Michelle Craig will be hard ones to fill. Not only is she Tiffin’s first female police officer, she also has fulfilled many other roles at the Tiffin Police Department.

Craig, whose retirement is scheduled later this month, began her career as a police officer at the Tiffin Police Department in May 1979. She has worked her way up the ranks in both uniform and criminal divisions, and will retire as head of the department’s criminal division.

Craig, who graduated from Columbian High School in 1975, said she knew law enforcement was the right career path for her during her junior year in high school. She had made a list of all of the jobs she was interested in and prayed about it every night.

Her prayers were answered, she said, and the decision to attend Terra Community College to study criminal justice was an easy one.

After graduating from college, Craig joined the department.

As Tiffin’s first female police officer, Craig overcame many obstacles. Not only were citizens wary of a female officer, but fellow officers also questioned her abilities.

“The guys were wondering if I could do the job,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Craig proved her ability. She even completed basic police training at the State Highway Patrol Academy. Craig was the first and only officer from Tiffin to go through the rigorous training there.

“I knew they were taking bets to see if I could make it, and that made me more determined,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Tiffin residents, much like her fellow officers, gained respect for Craig.

Frank Iannantuono, who retired from the Tiffin Police Department in 2011, recalled one incident in which a man being arrested tested Craig’s perseverance.

He said he and Craig were handling a disturbance call when Craig attempted to arrest a man.

After she told the man he was under arrest, the man turned to Iannantuono and told him he would let Iannantuono arrest him, but he wouldn’t let Craig arrest him.

Iannantuono told the man Craig was a police officer and he had to do what she told him.

“She persevered through that and became one of the best police officers I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Over the years, she’s developed such a rapport with the department, with the citizens and with other departments.”

Iannantuono described Craig as a “very smart lady” and said she is one of the most tenacious investigators the department has had.

Tiffin Police Chief Fred Stevens, who has worked with Craig his entire career at the Tiffin Police Department, said Craig has been a great colleague who is empathetic to all.

“It’s a lot of knowledge and experience that’s going to walk out the door (with retirement),” he said.

Stevens said Craig chose a great team to work in the criminal division, which has led to the department’s high clearance rate.

“That’s a large part of the success of the Tiffin P.D. criminal division,” he said. “She selects and has a great team that works for her and for the citizens. … A large part of her success is how she puts her nose to the grindstone. And her tenacity and compassion. She takes each case seriously and puts all her efforts into it.”

While unraveling cases is one of Craig’s major strengths, Craig said running radar and pulling over a car can be just as exciting.

“There’s nothing like running radar and pulling a car over, but then there’s nothing like cracking a crime,” she said. “Each one in and of itself is pretty exciting.”

One of the most memorable cases Craig solved was the case of Eric Pearson, a serial rapist who struck Tiffin in the mid-1990s.

Pearson’s case was one of the first to be solved at the Tiffin Police Department with the help of DNA.

Craig said Pearson had raped two women in Tiffin and committed several rapes in Upper Sandusky, Kenton and Bowling Green. He covered victims’ faces during the crimes, but each time, he left behind DNA. Law enforcement appropriately named it his “calling card.”

Pearson later was tried and convicted, Craig said.

During Pearson’s trial, a Bible verse found inadvertently in a catalog advertisement helped Craig get through the tough times.

She said she had found the verse, Job 12:22, during a break. It read, “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.”

Craig said prior to finding the verse, she had been frustrated the jury was unable to hear valuable information that kept getting suppressed.

“That was pretty special to me,” she said. “I have seen that kind of stuff, God’s hand, throughout my whole career.”

Craig said Pearson’s case was one of many in which she has felt good about playing a role in the conclusion.

“We’ve been able to help people and even help criminals themselves,” Craig said. “I’ve had people I arrested over the years come thank me.”

Craig attributes much of her success to a higher power.

“I know that this job was definitely from God. There were times when I was investigating breaking and enterings and hours afterwards we hear that the guy might be hidden out at a certain place. When we get there, that’s the time he was leaving and going to the gas station to get pop,” she said. “God has truly blessed the work of our hands. Where there are no leads, God brings the dark things to light.”

Craig said the best part of her 34-year career at the Tiffin Police Department has been the acquisition of her family.

While on duty in the early 1990s, Craig came across a teenage girl, Maranda. The girl, Craig said, had basically been left on her own.

“I took her in under my wing and, through the years, she’s become my daughter,” she said. “I have eight grandchildren now. That’s been my blessing out of all this.”

Family is of utmost importance to Craig, whose sisters also played a vital role throughout her career.

“I had good family support,” she said.

Retirement will be bittersweet, Craig said, but she knows it’s time for her to move on.

“The biggest change is when I started, we had light blue uniforms and I had dark hair. Now as I walk out the door, we have dark uniforms and I have light hair,” she said.

Craig cited part of a passage from Luke as appropriate for her retirement: “We have done that which was our duty to do.”

“I want that for Him,” Craig said. “That my work here that I did was what I was supposed to do.”