ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Dan Kinning has been a police officer for 17 years and if given the option, he’d choose his profession all over again.
“I think I’ve found my calling,” Kinning said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do since childhood.”
Kinning is Hillsboro’s chief of police, and at 43 he is able to reflect on the early influences in his life directing him toward his current duties-enforcing the law in his adopted community.
Born in Portsmouth, Va., he was the middle child in a family of five children. His mother and Naval-officer father were both from Colorado, and his mother remarried when he was about 9.
“So at that time, we moved to a farm in Colorado, and that’s basically where I grew up,” Kinning said. “It was even a lot more rural than here.
“When I was in high school, they gave you aptitude tests, and at the top of my list was law enforcement.”
There were other influences in his life directing him toward his career in law enforcement, Kinning said.
His father was a criminal investigator during the last half of his career in the Navy.
“When we lived in Denver, for some reason the neighborhood we lived in was full of police officers,” Kinning said.
After high-school graduation, Kinning entered Arapahoe Community College.
“That was assisted and sponsored by the Denver Police Department,” Kinning said. “It was almost like a cadet program. We did ‘ride-alongs’ and went through a little mini academy.”
Less than a year into college, Kinning married wife Patricia. They moved to Marion in 1979 and later added a son to their family.
“We didn’t want to raise a family in Denver,” Kinning said. “I had a set of grandparents who lived over by Marion, and I’d come out before and spent a summer at the farm. So I just loved this area.”
After working for three years at the Hesston Corp., Kinning was laid off along with about 50 percent of the other employees. So he worked at part-time jobs and enrolled in Butler County Community College in criminal justice.
“While I was attending there, I had to write a thesis on a local law-enforcement agency, and I wrote it on Marion,” Kinning said. “While I was riding with them and doing that, they talked me into getting on the reserve there.”
In 1985, he went to the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center along with fellow classmate Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker.
From 1985 to 1995, Kinning worked full time as the undersheriff at the Marion County Sheriff’s office.
Due to a grant awarded the Hillsboro Police Department, a position became available in 1995, and Kinning was hired.
“I was a year as a patrolman, two years as a detective and then a chief,” he said.
Kinning’s workdays are long-certainly not the typical employee’s hours of nine to five, five days a week, he said.
“I fill in when the guys are sick, when they’re training and when they’re on vacation,” he said. “And this Saturday, I’ve got two different meetings I have to attend.”
Each officer working his shift is on call if he’s available, Kinning said.
If the officer is not available, then the likely choice to be called in is Kinning.
“And on the weekends, I get calls from the public, or they show up at my door with problems,” he said. “And it’s kind of flattering that they come to me, that they’re comfortable.”
Vacations are rare for the police chief.
“Every couple or three years, we’ll take off for a week,” Kinning said. “I have a time-share condominium in Branson, and I haven’t been there in eight years.”
But in the last few years, Kinning said he has made time for one hobby.
“I enjoy classic cars,” he said. “I’ve got a 1967 Pontiac GTO, and I belong to the Hillsboro Car Club.
And is there a car out there calling his name?
“In 2004, Pontiac (General Motors) is bringing back the GTO. I would love to have that.”
Since joining the Hillsboro police force, Kinning said he’s seen changes in the community and in his profession.
“I didn’t think anything ever happened in Hillsboro when I first came here,” he said. “But it was very, very active.
“In fact, when they first opened up the juvenile-intake center in Marion, we took more juveniles from Hillsboro than all the rest of the agencies put together in the county.”
At that time, gangs were trying to get a foothold in the community, he said.
“So it was nothing every night to have to deal with some kids from Newton or Wichita flashing gang signs or trying to assault one of our kids,” Kinning said.
“That peaked in 1997, and we don’t see that anymore. We got very aggressive and started working very closely with the schools.”
Three years after he joined the force, the canine department was established in Hillsboro.
Kinning’s also seen the DARE program-Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education-developed since joining the department as well as other drug-awareness and personal-safety programs.
And did the events of Sept. 11 change the department operations?
“It changed how we worked with the national agencies,” Kinning said.
“We’re working a lot closer with them. In fact, we just got approved for a grant from the federal government for a computer we’ll probably receive in January. It will have a program set up for the AMBER alert program.”
AMBER is an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The program is designed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help law-enforcement agencies and broadcasters activate urgent bulletins in serious child-abduction cases.
Kinning said one of the challenges of his job is dealing with paperwork responsibilities.
“And it gets worse every year,” he said. “I think on the average, in the state of Kansas, 35 percent of our time’s spent on paperwork.”
But he said he sees paperwork as a vital part of his job, too.
“Things need to be documented,” Kinning said. “A lot of times, I have cases where it’s a year or more before I testify in court. And I really have to rely on those reports.”
Kinning said his biggest challenge is enforcing the law in a community where he lives.
“I have to deal with people I’ve gotten to know real well,” he said. “And all of a sudden, you have to turn around and be the law-enforcement officer. So you have to learn to separate your social life from your job.
“In fact, it’s hard to have a social life. Most people are kind of afraid to socialize with you-they feel uncomfortable. But, that’s the way it is.”
Getting burned out is not uncommon in his profession, he said.
“It’s a high-stress job and long hours. But we do get ‘thank yous’ here sometimes, and that’s one of the things that really attracted me to Hillsboro.”
Kinning said the youngsters he used to work with have teenagers of their own now.
“And I’ve had a lot of them coming back to me and telling me they appreciated what I did, and it straightened them out.”
The support from the city government has also been positive, he said.
“I like the commitment to the community here.”
As part of that support, Hillsboro City Council recently announced the police department will be relocated at the former American Milk Producers Association building after the first of the year.
And future plans include possibly building a new safety center at the corner of Third and Ash streets.
“We’ve just plain outgrown this place,” Kinning said.
The current evidence room is too small, there’s no place to interview people or hold meetings, and there are problems with security issues in the present building, he said.
“But I’m going to miss the downtown myself. I like to be able to walk around the downtown to meet with people and mingle with them.”
Kinning said he feels fortunate to be a police officer-interacting with people and helping them.
“I realize I’m never going to be able to get rich in this job, but it’s what I want to do. It’s what I do for my community, and I really enjoy it.”