COLUMBIA — Ken Hawkins has been causing his students at the Law Enforcement Training Institute pain for the last 16 years, and they appreciate him for it.
“I learned he has the boniest knees in Missouri,” former student James Creel said.
Hawkins, 59, was the academy coordinator and is an instructor for the institute — also known as the police academy — in Columbia. He handed over the role of coordinator to Adam Duncan on Jan. 15 and will retire from full-time teaching on June 30.
Hawkins teaches defensive tactics, investigation and patrol tactics. That's where the bony knees come into play: sometimes he just can't help but cause students physical anguish when demonstrating techniques.
Hawkins also likes to use real-life stories as examples to make his lessons real to his students, said colleague and friend William Stephens, an assistant professor and senior instructor at the institute.
“He really cares about every topic that he teaches,” said Stephens, who has known Hawkins for 20 years and described him as “very calm, laid-back and easy to get along with, until whatever imaginary line it is gets crossed."
Hawkins began working as an instructor on Nov. 1, 1993. During his time since, he has helped teach about 3,000 students from the first day of training to graduation.
Before coming to the training institute, Hawkins served in the Army in the military police and as part of the Criminal Investigation Division in the reserves. He was an officer with the Columbia Police Department for 21 years.
Now, he's looking forward to retirement, and he said the timing seemed right both personally and professionally. His son's family recently moved to Florida, so Hawkins and his wife expect to travel to see more of their grandchildren.
The institute also just hired two full-time instructors to take over Hawkins' course load. "We've got some newer people coming in, and I have been off the street since '93," Hawkins said. "So a lot of things have changed in that time frame."
There have been other changes since Hawkins began. The age range of the students has widened, and classes have increased in size from as few as 12 in the early years to 50 in recent months. Recently, the institute has had to cap its classes at 50, Hawkins said.
He talked about several current students who decided to enter law enforcement after losing their jobs. "When the economy dropped, our numbers really picked up," Hawkins said.
The new instructors, Duncan and Scott Connor, began work in January. Both are graduates of the training institute and said they think highly of their former teacher.
Duncan credits Hawkins and another instructor with helping him through his training while he worked the graveyard shift as a 911 dispatcher. It was that kind of demonstration of caring about students that drew Duncan back to the institute.
The current class, which graduates on April 23, will be the last that goes through the institute with Hawkins on board. What students will lose with Hawkins' retirement is his personality and teaching style, said Gary Maddox, director of the training institute.
Creel, who graduated from the academy in August 2009 and now works for the Fulton Police Department, said Hawkins has been "a major resource" that the academy is going to lose.