DALTON Senior Patrolman Ken Hendricks, who is retiring at the end of this month from the Dalton Police Department after a lengthy career in law enforcement, had a few brushes with the law when he was growing up in Massillon.
Not what you may think – they were all positive encounters.
In the sixth grade at Emerson Elementary, Hendricks was a school patrol with an orange belt and a badge.
He remembers excitedly sitting in a police cruiser on his way to a banquet as part of a reward for being recognized as a school patrol of the year. He also recalls being full of questions in the eighth grade at Lorin Andrews during Career Day when a local officer, Tom Jackson, was invited to speak about police work.
“I know I had to drive him nuts asking him questions,” Hendricks said with a smile.
As the police officer may have responded to many other seemingly enthusiastic youngsters over the years, Jackson challenged the young Hendricks to apply for the civil service exam when he was older and see if he could get hired on at the Massillon Police Department.
Hendricks took that challenge seriously and he even was able to relay that story to Jackson, who was still serving as a detective, when he saw him years later on the department. Jackson joked that the story aged him. Meanwhile, Hendricks was just beginning his dream career. He always wanted to be a police officer serving his hometown of Massillon. He served more than 26 years at Massillon after being on the force at Perry Township for about four years. He had a taste of working at a small-town police department when he worked in Beach City for nearly two years, which included filling in as interim chief for a few months, and he has especially enjoyed completing his career the past seven years as a part-time officer in the village of Dalton.
“It was a pleasure and honor to serve the communities of Perry Township, Massillon, Beach City and here,” said the 65-year-old while seated in the Dalton Police Station last week next to Chief Ryan Pearson. “This (Dalton) was the second-longest time of my serving as a law enforcement officer.”
But he almost went in a different direction.
Those early encounters with law enforcement officers in his elementary and junior high years stayed in the back of his mind and may have planted seeds for his ultimate future profession. At Washington High School, an injury prevented him from joining the football team but he enjoyed playing baseball and he discovered after trying his hand at drafting he was quite good at it. At that time, he was interested in pursuing a career in architecture.
When Hendricks graduated in 1976, the recession made it difficult to find work and he joined the U.S. Army and served September 1976 to September 1979. He worked on Chinook helicopters.
He was honorably discharged and served in the U.S. Army Reserves and Military Police. Hendricks got his start in local law enforcement when he was hired full time at Perry Township Police Department in Stark County in June 1981 and he worked there four years. He was hired full time at Massillon PD in October 1985 and retired from there May 25, 2012 when he was 54.
“I figured I’d retire and do something else,” Hendricks said. “I thought I can’t just sit back and do nothing.”
Hendricks worked for a short time at Affinity Medical Center as a part-time security officer. He said he would have enjoyed staying in that position longer but the security department closed. He was hired at Beach City Police Department and worked there for a year and 10 months, including serving five months as interim police chief. He said the slower pace of working in smaller village departments compared to the bigger city of Massillon was a bit of a “culture shock.”
Following Beach City, Hendricks continued to look for part-time work as a patrolman and landed the job at the Dalton Police Department on Dec. 7, 2015.
“I thought I could help out and offer some of my experience and training that I had,” he said.
In Dalton, he knew Pearson, and former mayor Judy Cox as well as her late husband, who both had careers in law enforcement, and officers including Eric McFarren and Matt Riley because of the police academy.
Hendricks was an instructor for 19 years at Traynor’s Police Academy and he taught some classes at Buckeye Career Center and Wayne County Schools Career Center.
In Massillon, he was a detective for nine years and he served on the Western Stark County Special Tactics and Response Team and Stark County Violent Crimes Fugitive Task Force with other agencies. He also was assistant team commander for SWAT in Massillon. He enjoyed working with fellow officers at his department and he also discovered benefits to working with other agencies on unsolved crimes.
“I enjoy doing investigations,” he said. “It’s a challenge. It’s like putting a puzzle together. It all keys in on what the officer does when they’re at the scene. The more information they get the easier it gets. There are a lot of different things out there you can use as investigative tools.”
Hendricks was able to bring all of this experience with him to Dalton. He dedicated time to solving some bigger cases and got convictions for crimes such as car thefts and a larger case including several other Ohio agencies that involved scams and counterfeit checks and credit cards.
“Small departments might not have a lot of officers,” Pearson said. “When Kenny started we solved a ton of cases. We were getting convictions in court on major felony cases. The professionalism, the experience he brought was unmatched.”
On the job over the decades, Hendricks has had to pull his gun many times but never had to shoot it. As he got closer to retirement from Massillon PD, he experienced some serious close calls with others trying to hurt him. He made a traffic stop on a vehicle occupied by a drug trafficker whom he later learned had committed numerous crimes. The man put a 9 mm pistol to Hendricks’ head. After a struggle, backup arriving, and a foot pursuit the man was arrested and remains in prison. A few months later, Hendricks was among officers who responded to a bank robbery in progress and the suspect had a gun.
“I’ve worked quite a few homicides and serious felony crimes,” Hendricks said.
Many of the cases that stand out in his mind over the years involve helping young children. He also has helped suicidal teenagers along the way. He recalls clearly talking down one young man in particular who had a rifle to his head. He has passed out hundreds of business cards and instructed emergency dispatch to get in touch with him if someone in need requests to speak specifically to him.
“When it comes to kids, I’m pretty soft,” he said.
Known as “Uncle Kenny” and even “Santa Claus” to some, the 6-foot-2 police officer with a head of white hair and a martial arts background can give a stern look when he needs to but he has a heart of gold. Hendricks has played a big role over more than three decades making the holidays special for thousands of area children.
Hendricks has served in nearly every officer position for the Fraternal Order of Police Henderson Lodge No. 105. For more than 30 years, Hendricks has not missed an opportunity at Christmas time to help out with the local Cops 4 Kids event when about 100 children have the opportunity to be paired with local first responders and shop for themselves and family members. Toys for Tots also helps with the program. Hendricks was the coordinator for several years and continues to help out.
“I don’t miss that – that’s part of my Christmas,” he said. “That’s something I do enjoy.”
Hendricks basically has played the role of Santa making sure children receive the toys they would like for Christmas and he often dons a Santa hat and festive tie along with his police uniform. Over the years, he has dressed up as the jolly old elf himself for some families. In his retirement, he plans to continue helping with Cops 4 Kids and he might get more serious about being one of Santa’s elves when needed.
Read the complete story in the Dec. 21, 2022 edition of The Dalton Gazette & Kidron News.