Monday, March 02, 2009

Good-Bye to LAPD Deputy Chief Kenneth Garner Who Had a Soft Spot for Kids and Had Pledged to Come to Writing Classes at the Boys and Girls Club in a World So Sorely Short of Angels Like This

By Diana L. Chapman

In my small-world attempts to help kids, I always look for one thing -- angels.

Angels have come and gone in my life, but when I find them I hang on because when they receive a phone call to help misguided youngsters or just show kids in need a helping hand, they are there.

They don’t even have to think about it. That was Deputy Chief Kenneth O. Garner, who suddenly died this past weekend at age 53 – an African-American officer who climbed the ranks so high within the Los Angeles Police Department that he was most recently the commanding officer of the South Bureau.

I am sure he would have gone even higher. The cause of death is pending, but he died at home Sunday – and for the many who knew him – we are crushed.

Just this last summer, the deputy chief and I had reached an agreement that made me so happy. He would come to speak to students at writing classes at the Boys and Girls Club. I needed him to come for a lot of reasons: a) to show African-American kids how high they can climb b) to let them know the police are not their enemy c) to speak in a way all kids can understand -- warm and open hearted.

He was exactly that – warm and open hearted – and that is how he spoke at rallies for peace and to those he met. As a man in blue, he showed a commanding presence with his compassion.

When I talked with him – at an evening Peace March in the spring by Justice for Murdered Children – he was on his own time, dressed in a suit, making his presence known on a Friday evening for those who don’t get enough support from the rest of us – the families of murder victims.

When I asked him for the help, he immediately pulled out his card and said something to the effect that he would come in the blink of an eye. He liked kids – and had volunteered as a football, basketball and baseball coach over the years.

Unfortunately, the Boys and Girls students missed that cherished moment the commanding officer had offered as I was still pulling together my classes. He had quite an affinity for San Pedro and it’s kids – especially because he went to school at San Pedro High.

Asked how he was feeling about the loss of Garner, LAPD Commander Pat Gannon, who heads the detective bureau, emailed me that the commander’s death was “tragic.”

“Kenny was a fun loving guy who I have know for the past 30 plus years," Pat wrote. "I think you are aware that he graduated from San Pedro High School in 1973 and played on the football team and ran track. I graduated from San Pedro High the same year but did not know Kenny until we joined the LAPD. This past Christmas,I met his daughter for the first time. He brought her as his date to the Chief's Holiday party. She is a freshman at Northwestern and I remember how proud he was of her.”

Born in Hot Springs, Alabama, Ken went to his former high school March -- for another peace rally -- in which he largely talked about today's students having a much harder life and coping with issues that he never faced at school, such as extensive overcrowding and gang-related violence.

Having joined the police department in 1977, the deputy chief went on to obtain an associates degree in the administration of justice at Harbor College and later received his Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

At the high school rally– he spoke to all the students and to those who lost their loved ones to violence. He talked about his enjoyment for the school and his desire to pull the community together so we could halt all the killings from gang or other violence.

He exuded warmth and caring – and the entire crowd seemed to sense that. I noted it and stuck it my head, because at that moment, I knew he was one of the many angels who would would help kids in a heartbeat. And I wasn’t wrong.

The services will be held at the Crenshaw Christian Center located at 7901 S. Vermont Ave. LA. at 10:00 on Monday.