3,000 gather in South L.A. to remember Deputy Police Chief Kenneth O. Garner. The mix of police, gang-intervention workers and residents at his funeral and service shows he built strong relationships in the community, mourners say.
Deputy Chief Kenneth O. Garner wore a Los Angeles Police Department uniform for more than three decades, but to 20 residents who came to his funeral on a bus from Watts on Monday, he was also one of their own.
"It's so important that we keep his legacy alive because actually we see him as community, not as law enforcement," said the Rev. James Jones, founder of the organization Gangsters for Christ. "He's going to be sorely missed."
Garner, 53, died unexpectedly at his Pasadena home March 1. He was the department's second-highest-ranking black officer. Residents and police alike said he had come to represent the new face of a department that, under Chief William J. Bratton, has tried to shake its notorious reputation in minority communities.
Among the roughly 3,000 people who went to the Crenshaw Christian Center for a celebration of his life were Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood).
The mix of uniformed police officers, gang-intervention workers and L.A. residents at the service was a testament to Garner's ability to build strong relationships with local communities while staying tough on crime, several mourners said.
"Kenny was blessed with three families," said Bratton, referring to Garner's relatives, police and the people he served. "Kenny Garner used his gifts and talents to enlighten and enrich the lives of his community."
The group of people who came on the private bus, wearing black ribbons in recognition of Garner's death, were community members associated with the Watts Gang Task Force.
"That's what he was about, bringing the community together," said Lucille Hooper, a task force member who lives in the Nickerson Gardens housing development in Watts. "He was there just about every Monday." John Mack, a civil rights advocate who serves on the Police Department's civilian oversight board, said Garner's career spanned "two LAPDs."
The first, Mack said, was fraught with racism and was at mutual odds with the city's African American communities. The second LAPD, he said, is one that works in partnership with the community. Garner played a vital role in that transformation throughout his career, Mack said.
Garner joined the LAPD in 1977 and most recently was the commander of operations for the department's South Bureau. He also recently began a program to help young men reenter society after being released from prison.
Garner was born in Hot Springs, Ark., on Nov. 28, 1955, and grew up in South Los Angeles. He was buried at Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier and is survived by his parents and daughter.