By Nancy Zoellner-Hogland
Dragnet has been described as one of the most successful police procedural series produced, and by far the most influential, shaping an entire generation’s view of law enforcement.
Adair County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said it certainly shaped his.
“I was excited about law enforcement when I was a kid, watching Dragnet and Adam 12. I was always intrigued by the cases they handled and impressed with how professional they were while doing their jobs. I knew they were TV shows, but they made such an impression that today, I strive to run my office with that same professionalism. My military training also plays into that,” he said, adding that former Missouri State Trooper David Young also served as an inspiration. “From the time I was about 16, I watched him doing his job and always respected him. He’s now retired but remains a friend.”
Sheriff Hardwick said he felt joining the Missouri National Guard’s 1175th Military Police Company as soon as he graduated from high school in 1974 was the best first step toward a career in law enforcement. He took his basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood and in 1975 took the MP training at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, then in 1979, while still volunteering as a “weekend warrior” he took a job with the Kirksville Police Department. In 1981, he received an honorable discharge from the National Guard, while continuing to work for the Kirksville P.D. He was there until 1984, when he accepted a position with the Texas Department of Public Safety State Police.
“After completing the 1,000-hour training in Austin, Texas, my duty assignments were in Houston, Fort Stockton, and later at the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area, where I worked as a courtroom trooper, testifying on behalf of the DPS in 21 courts. Then I was promoted to corporal and worked as a supervisor, handling a variety of investigations,” he said.
In 1992, he resigned from the Texas State Police and relocated back to Missouri to take an investigations job with a cable company. However, law enforcement was in his blood so in 2002, he rehired with the Kirksville P.D. In the meantime, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, he reenlisted in the National Guard, joining the 1438th Engineer Company in Macon. In 2006 he was activated and from 2006 to 2008 served in the Yuma, Arizona area, working alongside the U.S. Border Patrol to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
He returned home in June, 2008, then proceeded to collect 500 signatures – more than twice the number needed – to run for sheriff as an independent candidate in the November General Election. After winning the election, because he knew he couldn’t give 110 percent to both jobs, he retired from the military. He was sworn into office January 1, 2009, and, according to the sheriff, “hit the ground running” with a great staff that brought more than 70 years’ combined experience to the table.
Sheriff Hardwick said he regularly draws on that experience, especially when drafting new policies and procedures and developing new programs. The Community Pro-Tektor Kiosk Systems, purchased in 2017 with proceeds from their Law Enforcement Restitution Fund, came about from one such discussion. Those kiosks, which allow law enforcement to easily and quickly push information out to the public in real time, are in the Kirksville HyVee Grocery Store and a convenience store that doubles as a Greyhound Bus Station. Two more will soon be placed in other locations in the county.
To keep the public informed and to be as transparent and open as possible, the sheriff gives tours of the office, participates in a weekly radio program, belongs to and speaks at numerous civic organizations and clubs, and each fall, presents anti-bullying programs in the school. He’s hoping to add another program in the coming school year that’s designed to help students deal with some of the issues they face each day.
Through it all, he’s been married for 42 years to Coe Ann, who he met and fell in love with in fifth grade when his family moved to Adair County from California. They got engaged after high school – she was a cheerleader, he was a basketball player – and later, had two children. They’re now in the process of living out their happily ever after, enjoying their four grandchildren, ages 6, 4, 3 and 9 months, every chance they get.
“I’m fortunate that they live close so we get to see them often. I’m living out my dream and consider myself blessed – very, very blessed,’” he said, adding that every step of the way, his wife has supported his career.
Sheriff Hardwick said he’s thankful to have that support because, at times, his job can be quite challenging.
“Finding the funds needed to move the office forward and getting legislators on the same page so we can modernize and professionalize law enforcement can be difficult,” he said, adding that he’s been to Jefferson City numerous times to push for reform. He’s also been involved in legislation at the local level.
Not too long after being elected, he applied for and received funding to address the methamphetamine problem. However, when the grant ran out, the problem still existed so over the next year, he met with numerous officials and doctors and in 2013, was able to get a law passed that prevents the over-the-counter sale of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to manufacture meth. Now, a doctor’s prescription is required to purchase the drug.
Sheriff Hardwick has a saying on the wall of his office that reads, “If you continue doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results. In order to get different results, you have to make a change.”
“That’s my philosophy and that’s the philosophy I’ve followed since working in law enforcement. I plan to run for reelection in 2020 and will continue that philosophy until I retire at the end of that term,” he promised.