Kenneth Francis, longtime Gardner police chief, has passed away.
Francis, 66, spent more than 40 years in public safety, and more than 20 of those in Gardner.
Francis grew up in St. Joseph, Mo, where his family ran a grocery store.
Although the family business awaited him, Francis knew from an early age that he wanted to be a police officer.
“As a young boy, the police used to run speed checks down the street from the grocery store,” he once told The Gardner News. “I used to go down there and just sit and talk to them. I always thought it would be kind of neat to help people do things like that. Certainly being young, I also thought of action.”
When Francis graduated high school, he joined the Missouri Air National Guard where he started his career as an air policeman.
After completing his military service, Francis returned to St. Joseph and worked as a lineman for the local power company while he looked for a job with a civilian police department.
Before long, he received a call from Gladstone, Mo.
He said it was a great place for a young, eager police officer to learn from older, experienced peers.
Mentoring and hard work paid off as Francis began quickly ascending through the ranks.
At age 27, Francis was hired as the first-ever police chief for the city of Weston, Mo.
Weston had a population of about 1,800 at the time and turned out to be a pivotal step in Francis’ career path.
It was there that Francis established the leadership philosophy that he would later bring to Gardner.
“That’s where I think I kind of learned to deal with people,” he said. “In a larger police setting it is a little more of the Jack Webb theory: ‘Just the facts’ — you make the call, you write the report, you make the arrest, or you serve the summons and then you get back in service so you can go to the next call.
“It was my first time in the small area, and all of a sudden, I thought, I ought to try to get to know these people a little bit, or try to.”
The more Francis began getting to know people, the more be began looking at law enforcement as a proactive service.
“We started asking how can we solve this problem, not just how do we take care of what’s at hand right now,” he said. “You’re involved in a fight or a disturbance or you’re drunk or you did this. What can we do to prevent this from happening again and be helpful to you as the victim or the suspect?”
Francis’s next career move materialized over lunch with then-Platte County Sheriff Tom Thomas.
Thomas asked Francis for suggestions for an undersheriff and Francis volunteered himself for the job without missing a beat.
He didn’t even ask about salary before accepting the position.
“He (Thomas) said, I’ll run the politics, you run the sheriff’s department,” Francis said.
Francis said his experience as undersheriff was valuable because he learned what “deputy sheriffs really do, contrary to what most municipal law enforcement officers think they do.”
Francis was later hired away by Trenton, Mo. and then Sikeston, Mo., which wanted him to start a “public safety” department with staff cross-trained to perform police, fire and emergency medical services.
Francis had several years of administrative experience with the public safety model in other cities he had worked in.
He also worked for five years in Gladstone.
Then he received a phone call from John Foster, the late Johnson County Sheriff, who at the time was Lenexa’s police chief.
“John Foster called me up and said you’re way too young to retire, you’ve got to go over to Gardner,” Francis said. “Where is Gardner? It’s in Johnson County, and that’s all that’s important and that’s all you really need to know about Kansas — it’s in Johnson County.
Francis — who counted two Clarence Kelly awards among his many law enforcement honors — said he considered the people he served to be his greatest reward.
He said he was grateful for the opportunity to have served Gardner residents for half of his professional life.
“Ken’s leadership and vision built a department that is really a family. Ken’s positive demeanor and strong presence gave us all a feeling of well being,” Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta said in a statement to the media. ” He led by example and instilled in his officers a sense of pride and commitment that has made Gardner a safe and vibrant community.”
More information will be posted as it becomes available.
Visitation will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20 at the College Church of the Nazarene, 2020 E. Sheridan, Olathe.
Funeral services will take place at 10 a.m on Friday, Sept. 21 at the College Church of the Nazarene.
Interment will follow at Gardner Cemetery.