FORTVILLE — The town’s police chief of the past seven years plans to retire at the end of 2020, finishing a law enforcement career that has spanned more than three decades.
Chief Bill Knauer, who announced his retirement at a Fortville Town Council meeting on June 15, recalled being hired in 2013 at a time when relations between the police department and the town were strained.
“I was hired as a change agent… to bring about change to a department and a community that were at constant odds with each other and to attempt to rebuild a relationship where the police could be trusted again,” Knauer said.
Robert Holland, a Fortville Town Council member who also was on the council during Knauer’s hiring, agreed.
“There was a constant struggle and perception problem,” Holland said. “And I knew… that this guy was the right man for the job.”
Knauer succeeded Don Bender, who had been on the job for only a few months when he resigned in the summer of 2012. Bender accused some on the council of not supporting the police department and said the department was being undermined. The town also had demoted the previous chief out of the job.
Knauer said it was important to him to spend his first 90 days as chief listening and observing before making changes, which included replacing some officers.
“I have tried to make a difference and have a positive impact on the department and community I serve, whether it’s in the character of the officers I’ve hired, or the training provided and the ability to show compassion and empathy with people we come into contact with,” he said.
Knauer told the Daily Reporter that he’s proud of changing the culture of the police department in a way that allows it to build relationships and trust among community members.
“And being able to actually sit down and talk to people here in Fortville about concerns and issues and how we can address them to be better problem solvers,” he said.
He added he’s proud of bringing the police department up to date with equipment and training over the years as well.
“You have to wear many different hats in today’s policing,” he said. “So hopefully we’ve trained our officers to show compassion. That comes with the character of the people you hire. That’s not really something you can instill in somebody; I think it comes from leadership, but they have to have that in their heart to begin with.”
During his remarks at the council meeting, Knauer said he knew he had wanted to be a police officer since he was 15 years old. He started his career in law enforcement at age 18. He served as a reserve officer for Arcadia, Cicero, the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department and the Fishers Police Department before joining that agency as a full-time officer in 1987.
Knauer said he’s given a lot to the profession.
“I’ve missed my kids’ sporting events, birthdays, special moments in the life of my kids and my grandkids because of work schedules and just the time it takes to do the job,” he said. “Now it’s time for me to step away; time for me to spend time with my family, my wife, all of which have supported me over the years; time that I’m afraid will get away if I don’t take the opportunity that presents itself.”
He hopes the council will involve him in their search for his successor.
“It’s got to be somebody that is forward thinking, that can see the big picture and not make hasty decisions based on circumstances as they are right in front of them,” Knauer told the Daily Reporter.
An ideal candidate would also be a collaborative leader who can get input from all stakeholders affected by potential decisions, he continued.
“Somebody that can take the department to the next level,” he said.