With an early start on his family's Plainview farm harvesting cucumbers and potatoes, Francis B. Looney went on to join the Nassau County Police Department, where he rose through the ranks and served as commissioner from 1966 to 1971.

The man credited with numerous modernizing initiatives, such as hiring women as police officers and purchasing the department's first helicopter, died Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip of complications from pneumonia. The longtime Farmingdale resident was 96.

Looney was "a public servant in the true sense of the word," said his son Daniel G. Looney, a bureau chief in the Nassau County district attorney's office. His father lived every day "out of love for his family, his community, his country and God," his son said.

Among the hallmarks of Looney's tenure was raising the educational standards of the department, said Mel Kenny, former Nassau deputy police commissioner who knew Looney for 50 years. Looney's aim, he said, was to raise professionalism through an initiative -- known informally as Looney U -- that provided college classes, some at police headquarters. On Looney's watch a two-year college degree requirement for being hired was also set in motion, his son said.

"We must better educate the police officer to cope with changing conditions," Looney told Newsday in March 1970. "There have been many changes in society in the last five or 10 years, and the demands that have been placed on policemen have been almost insurmountable," he said.

One of his first acts as commissioner was to establish a community relations bureau for the force of then 2,700 officers and 330 clerical workers, according to a 1966 Newsday article.

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A longtime member of the Nassau County Bar Association, Looney later went on to serve as a deputy police commissioner with the New York City Police Department, his son said, and from 1978 to 1997 as counsel to the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. He also served as president of the International Chiefs of Police.

Born Sept. 28, 1916, in Plainview, Looney graduated from Farmingdale High School and went on to St. John's University, from which he also received a law degree in 1940.

Working his way through law school, Looney had followed the footsteps of several of his older brothers who had joined Nassau County police, his son said. During World War II, Looney served in the U.S. Army's counterintelligence corps, rising to the rank of first lieutenant.

Looney is also survived by his wife of 67 years, Mary Looney of Farmingdale; daughters Jean Wikstrom of Farmingdale and Jane Looney of Raleigh, N.C.; a son, Thomas of Cary, N.C.; and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by a son, Francis Jr.

A funeral Mass will be offered Saturday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church in Bethpage, followed by burial with military honors at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.