LOS ANGELES -- One of the LAPD's highest-ranking black officers, who was in charge of recruitment when the department began adding personnel, died unexpectedly Sunday at his home.
Deputy Chief Kenneth O. Garner, 53, was commander of the Los Angeles Police Department's South Bureau.
The cause of death was not immediately revealed, although longtime friend Carl McGill, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles County Inc., said he thought it might have been a heart attack.
An autopsy is pending.
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"For more than 30 years, Chief Garner's passion and compassion set him apart as a true leader for our police department," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. "His commitment to L.A.'s families, his dedication to our neighborhoods and his lifetime devotion to serving the greater good demonstrate the extraordinary character of an extraordinary man."
Garner, who had been with the LAPD for more than 31 years, "served the community with both distinction and honor," said police Chief William Bratton. "All of us mourn his passing but take comfort in the knowledge that he lived his life and helped countless others along the way."
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, called Garner a "beacon of reform and change within the LAPD," and urged the mayor to rename the South Bureau Station the Kenneth Garner Division Command Station in his honor.
He said Garner often appeared at the roundtable's weekly community forums to report on LAPD efforts to reduce gang violence, unsolved murder, improve black-Latino and police-black community relations.
"Garner was paramount respected, consummate professional, who tirelessly worked to make the LAPD a kinder, gentler, reform-oriented and top crime-fighting organization," Hutchinson said. "He was a true friend to me and to the community. He will be deeply missed."
Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said he had not talked to the mayor about renaming the police station, but that he "would be open" to such a suggestion.
Sgt. Ronnie Cato, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, a grassroots organization consisting of black police officers, said Garner had called in sick about three days prior to his death.
The first sign that Garner might have health problems occurred Feb. 15, when he fainted at the funeral of Officer Randy Simmons, the first LAPD SWAT officer to die in the line of duty.
Simmons, 51, died Feb. 7, 2008, when he stormed a Winnetka home where a young man had killed his father and two of his brothers.
Cato, who said he was flooded with calls from fellow officers, said no one thought much of the fainting at the time, and that "not eating and standing up so long -- all day" could have led to the episode.
"I called him and told him to take care of himself," Cato said. "He basically told me that he hadn't eaten all day and I didn't think too much of it. Now I'm thinking that (his fainting) might have something to do with it (his death). It makes me start thinking."
Cato said he was "in shock."
"I had to freeze for awhile," he said. "I'm talking about a man who was loved, a commanding officer who was loved by his officers. We called him Kenny G. He was one of the most down-to-earth commanding officers. His concept, his ideology was people first. He was able to balance people and their needs -- putting people first and still fighting crime. People are in shock. We've lost one of our best."
Garner started with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1977. In March 2008, he was promoted to commander of the South Bureau, which encompasses the 77th Street, Southwest, South and Harbor stations, as well as the South Traffic Division.
He became a deputy chief in July 2007, a month after celebrating 30 years on the force.
"Los Angeles has suffered a great loss with the death of Deputy Chief Garner," said Paul Weber of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers. "Chief Garner's profound allegiance to the LAPD and the community warrants the appreciation and gratitude of all Angelenos. The men and women of the LAPD join the community in offering our deepest sympathies and prayers to the Garner family as they endure this painful loss."
Garner was born in Hot Springs, Ark. He is survived by his daughter, Lauren; his mother and father.