Chief Robert Knox To Retire: Zionsville Thanks You for Decades of Dedicated Service

January 2020

As a resident of Zionsville and local journalist who has been privileged to know and cover the Zionsville Police Department (ZPD) and its chief, Robert Knox, it is with bittersweet emotions that the publishers of Zionsville Monthly and I announce Chief Knox’s retirement from the department in the early part of 2020.

After 35 years with ZPD, Knox has spent the last several months deliberating with his wife, Karin, on when the “right” time to retire would be. Knox decided this is the year that he will pass the baton and all of its responsibilities to a new Chief of Police while he prepares to enter a brand-new chapter in his life as a civilian. A decision that has been a heart wrenching one for Knox to make though he is excited to see what the “retired life” looks like.

The Making of a Chief of Police

Knox’s desire to serve as a police officer comes naturally. His father was in the military and served in the military police. Knox shared that his respect and awe for police officers grew throughout his childhood and formative years.

“I grew up on the other side of Boone County and went to a little school that is now Granville Wells Elementary School,” Knox shared. “Everything revolved around basketball in those communities then— we didn’t even have a football team. Every now and then you would see a trooper or an officer come to the basketball games, and I remember thinking how awesome that was. Once I got through high school, I went to Vincennes University for a little while, but I didn’t major in law enforcement.”

Chief Robert Knox To Retire

In fact, Knox became a pipe fitter after completing a four-year apprenticeship. It was during that time that he became a reserve police officer, and that’s when his “calling” became apparent to him. Knox worked his way up from a reserve police officer to working full time in investigations and the drug task force before becoming chief of ZPD.

“I came over to Zionsville in the early ’80s as a reserve police officer, and then I had the opportunity to go to Lebanon [Police Department], where I became a full-time officer,” Knox said. “I knew after being a reserve officer [in Zionsville] that I wanted to come back here because I knew that it was something special. I’ve been so blessed, and I think a lot of it was being in the right place at the right time. It’s been an amazing career.”

Support From and Engaging With the Community

When asked how he feels about the Zionsville community and what its support has meant to him, Knox replied, “I love the community support that we [ZPD] currently enjoy. We [ZPD] have to work on garnering that support every day, and we must stay engaged with the members of our community.”

Under Knox’s leadership and that of his staff, many community engagement programs have been maintained or created such as “Coffee with a Cop,” the Teen and Citizens academies, the “Drug Take Back” program and several other outreach initiatives that aim at continuing to build strong connections between the department and members of the community.

“‘Coffee with a Cop’ is a program that we’ve been doing for a number of years,” Knox said. “The idea came from somewhere out on the West Coast, and we adopted it. We’ve held it at a couple of locations over the years, but the McDonald’s here [on Brendon Way] is a great host and partner to ZPD. It’s just a great time in a casual atmosphere to sit down and talk with people. It’s the winning of hearts and minds, and we pass out stickers to the kids who come with their parents or grandparents, and it’s just a blast.”

ZPD recently teamed up with Bub’s Burgers to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics—an organization that is close to both the department’s and the chief’s hearts.

“We did an event called ‘Tip A Cop’ to support Special Olympics,” Knox shared. “The tips that the officers earned went towards that. It’s a huge passion of mine as well. The officers did phenomenal work, and I’m so proud of these men and women.”

Being an Officer Isn’t Always Glorious and Good Times

“You asked if I have any regrets—no, not really,” Knox shared. “Yes, I think anybody in any position would have something that they’d like to do over again or a little differently, but those are the learning experiences in life and are part of one’s growth. The good times far outweigh the bad ones, but I am grateful that there are people like us [officers and first responders] to go in and deal with the things that we do as part of our jobs because the majority of people should not have to. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine—the ‘other’ side of the job does happen. I’ve had people die in my arms. I’ve witnessed death and destruction. It has taught me that life and people are very fragile. And people sometimes make bad decisions, but even then, I’ve learned that the people who make bad decisions are somebody’s somebody.”

I asked Chief Knox if he lost or gained faith in people during those challenging and heartbreaking moments, and he replied, “It’s part of the career and part of this journey. I’ve never lost faith in people in those times. Those times instead strengthened my faith.”

A Few of the Many Accomplishments During His Tenure

During his tenure, ZPD has grown to become a robust department that is meeting the needs of our growing community and has added more officers, additional state-of-the-art technology as needed and reinstated the department’s K-9 unit—after the department went many years without one—with the swearing in of Eso. With the community’s support and generosity, Eso had a remarkable career with ZPD, paving the way for future K-9 officers.

“When I first started at ZPD, there were only five full-time officers, and the population was just over 3,000 in 1984,” Knox stated. “We recently hired our 38th officer, and we’ve increased our civilian staff, but as the department continues to grow to meet the needs of a growing population, so do our needs. Having said that, we [as a department] are very blessed and have some of the best equipment that is available.”

In addition to championing for his department, Knox has been a champion for our children and was a major contributor to the School Resource Officer initiative that was implemented as a result of a strategic partnership with the Zionsville Community Schools and with the support of several local elected officials and community members.

Chief Robert Knox To Retire

“I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do, and as we’re going into 2020, do we wish it didn’t have to be so? Yes, of course we do,” Knox expressed. “Do we long for the days and times when we didn’t need SROs in our schools? Of course we do, but it’s the reality of today. I’m proud that we got the partnership with the school system, and all of the officers assigned to the schools are top-notch officers who want to be there [at the schools]. Those officers are out there, getting involved with the kids, and it’s great. One of the SROs used to play pro football for the New York Giants, and now he’s out there with our kids, and that’s neat.”

Too Many to Thank by Name

Aside from his wife and son, Knox humbly admitted that he has been blessed to have been supported, mentored and befriended by too many to name without an accidental omission, so he simply said, “I absolutely want to mention my wife, son and daughter-in-law—Karin, Justin and Nikki. In 1990, we had our son, Justin, who is a police officer for the Lebanon Police Department. Karin was always there, lockstep with me every step through all of these years. She supported me through the long hours and all the investigations that took me away from home. She is my rock and has been for over 40 years.”

Chief Robert Knox To Retire
Justin and Robert Knox

Knox continued, “There are so many people that I would like to thank. They all know who they are. They are the ones who have helped me, supported me, walked beside me—the list is very long, and I am so fortunate to have had and continue to have their support. When I was young and just starting out in my career, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people and mentors.”

What’s Next for Our Chief

“I’m not sure exactly,” he admitted. “I’m not sure how easy of a transition it will be for me. I’m not going to miss the 3 a.m. calls, but I will continue to worry about these men and women and will continue to raise them up in my prayers, but even as we talk now, I am starting to feel the weight [of this job] lifting. When I pass this responsibility to the next chief, things will continue to be just fine here at ZPD. I will still be a big cheerleader for the community and for ZPD.”

Presently, the chief’s plan is to officially step down after the first quarter of the new year but emphasized that he will not be packing his bags and heading to the tropics in the immediate future.

“It really has been an honor to serve as chief and as an officer of this department, and I will be available to help with the process of finding and acclimating a new chief in whatever capacity Mayor Styron wants during the transition. When I walk away from here, I want to know, and I want the community to know, that I gave it my all.”

When I asked the chief if the sacrifices, the trials and tribulations and the hard work was all worth it, he replied with a sense of conviction and contentment, “Looking back, maybe I would have done some things differently, but yes. I would do it again.”