Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight vividly remembers a domestic call he received as an officer early in his career.
He arrived at a home to find a woman cowering in the living room with a bloody nose. With her husband nearby watching football on TV, the woman told Knight she had walked into a door. When asked who called the police, Knight was told "We don’t know."
“I’m trying to process what are my options here, and the guy looks at me and says ‘Are you going to arrest me? If not, get out of here.’”
“There wasn’t a thing I could do,” Knight said.
At the time, misdemeanors needed to be witnessed in order to make an arrest, or the victim needed to make a citizen’s arrest, which rarely happened.
“She wasn’t going to leave. I couldn’t touch him. There was nothing I could do. That still haunts me,” Knight said, decades after the incident. “I can still see it right now, like I saw it then.”
Laws were later rewritten to allow “probable cause” to arrest someone for a misdemeanor, even if the police officer didn’t witness a crime.
“It was a shortfall in the law that was eventually remedied. It was a huge, quantum leap for protecting victims of domestic violence,” Knight said.
However, it only happened after groups lobbied the Minnesota Legislature. Throughout his career, Knight followed suit. When he saw a lapse in the law, he worked to change it, at the local, state or national level.
Laws and society have continued to evolve throughout Knight’s long career in the city.
However, his love of Chaska and law enforcement have remained steadfast.
“Even to this day, it is one of the few jobs — except for maybe emergency room medical personnel — it’s one of the few jobs where right now, right there, at that time, you are positioned and empowered to immediately help somebody or remedy a bad situation,” Knight said. “And I believe that holds true today.”
After 44 years with the Chaska Police Department, the last 20 as police chief, Knight, 67, is retiring.
The range of public safety innovations throughout Knight’s local career began when Chaska had just one traffic stoplight, and is ending shortly after he added the use of police body cameras.
Throughout that time, he fostered several initiatives: a gang unit, Spanish-language tutors for officers, a chaplains corp, a department exercise program, expansion of non-lethal weapon options and citywide dialogues on race, just to name a few.
He announced his retirement in June, and left the department in September. Knight’s official retirement is Jan. 2, when accrued vacation time expires.
“He really fit the mold and definition of a community servant and a community leader in terms of ensuring that every person, no matter what their income levels and place in the community, was treated equally, and he was really committed to that,” said Bob Roepke, a life-long Chaska resident, who served as mayor when Knight was hired as police chief.
Knight may not have ended up in law enforcement, or in Chaska, if not for a palomino quarter horse named Sundance.
Knight, who grew up a block off of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, was working as a professional photographer, taking portraits and shooting weddings.
About 1975, he purchased a horse and kept it at the long-gone WW Ranch stables off of Bavaria Road in Chaska, driving back and forth from Minneapolis.
The ranch owner was a member of the Carver County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Posse, and soon Knight joined the posse as well. As a posse member, Knight was deputized. Then, after 100 hours of patrol ride-alongs, he began working midnight-8 a.m. shifts for the Sheriff’s Office. After 2 a.m. he was responsible for anything happening west of Waconia.
“It was pretty sleepy, but when something happened and they did, you were the guy. You were on your own because there was nobody else out there.”
So Knight cut his teeth on everything from medical calls to serving a warrant on a bank robber.
Soon, he received a call from Chaska Police Chief Greg Schol, and in 1976 began working as a part-time Chaska police officer. Then Knight became a full-time officer and underwent Bureau of Criminal Apprehension training.
He was one of five full-time Chaska officers in a city of 5,000 people. At the time the department had two squad cars and one unmarked blue Gran Torino.
Knight continued to gain rank at the department — from sergeant to lieutenant to deputy chief.
He said, of climbing the ranks: “Part of it was, particularly as sergeant, having a great ability to create and inform policy decisions, training, equipment and to look at working shift structures to the betterment of the officer and the community.”
As Knight’s roles changed, so did policing. In 2000, the city hired him as chief, taking over a role that Schol held for 25 years, before retiring.
“He was focused on, or prioritized community policing before it became vogue,” said Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, of Knight. “He’s always been about those relationships with community groups, with crime victims, with any kind of stakeholders.
“His community service and community policing is first and foremost and others talk the talk, but Scott Knight always walks the walk as well, in his department and his community,” Skoogman said.
“Community policing, concisely to me, means: Sincere engagement and partnerships with the community at-large and sub-communities within the larger community,” Knight said.
One of those groups was a Citizen Advisory Board, which drew its membership from Chaska residents. “I wanted to create the opportunity for them to tell me what they were thinking, what they wondered about, what they might be hearing. That was a wonderful relationship,” Knight said.
Ray Pleasant was a member of the board, which met every other month, with five to seven others. “He’s very receptive,” Pleasant said, of Knight. Pleasant recalls discussing issues such as body cameras; nationwide officer-involved shooting of black men; and how police address youth with disabilities.
“Some people refer to community policing as a program, or a facet of the job, Knight said. “No, no — it is the job. It is a culture. It is not a program. And Chaska has always been a community policing department.”
Police across the country have recently come under fire, following several high-profile officer-involved shootings.
“The pendulum has really swung to a distrustful position. I do not believe that is the case in Chaska,” he said.
Knight wasn’t afraid to jump into the fray on controversial public safety topics.
For instance, while “warrior” police training has recently begun to draw criticism, it has long been on Knight’s radar.
“The training morphed into the warrior mentality, not a police officer,” he said.
He told the officers that the department would not offer any “warrior”-related police training. “I do know that Chaska doesn’t have warriors, so I was hyper-sensitive to that type of training,” he said.
He also advocated for stricter gun laws and served as chair on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee from 2005 to 2012, leading a push against gun violence, and testifying before Congress on the subject.
In 2008, the city of Chaska became the first city in Minnesota to pass a social host ordinance, penalizing hosts of underage drinking parties. Knight began pushing for the measure after Officer Greg Reinhardt expressed concern that there was a gap in the law.
The number of underage drinking parties dropped significantly, Knight said, and the ordinance can now be found around the state.
‘IT’S A LIFESTYLE’
The average tenure for a police chief is about five years, said Skoogman.
“It’s a high stress, high-burnout, 24-7 job, but it’s more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. It takes a toll on people,” Skoogman said. “One reason he has lasted this long was he was very good at and loved his job, he was passionate about his job and passionate about helping people.”
“It was just the job, I never felt stressed, as a state of being,” Knight said.
However, he notes some investigations and incidents took a toll — such as when Chaska police officer (now deputy chief) Ben Anderson was shot while responding to a call in 2001.
St. Peter Police Chief Matt Peters has known Knight since they attended the FBI National Academy together. Like Knight, Peters has served as a chief for decades.
“The best advice I can give a new chief is, you have to grow trust, not only with your own staff, but with the city council and the people you work with. It’s the No. 1 priority of a leader,” Peters said. “And obviously the people in Chaska have certainly trusted Scott.”
Over the years, Knight worked closely with the Carver County Attorney’s Office.
“He certainly was a strong partner and advocate for public safety, and became a really strong collaborator with our office and other agencies,” said Carver County Attorney Mark Metz. “I think he was very innovative too. He was on the front line of trying new ways to improve law enforcement and investigation techniques — certainly a man of integrity.”
Carver County Sheriff Jason Kamerud said he first met Knight as a nervous 16-year-old. He was a witness to a forgery case that the Chaska police investigated.
“I remember that day very clearly,” Kamerud recalled. “It was my first time testifying in court. He was very warm and encouraging.”
Chaska is the only city in Carver County with a police department. Other area cities contract through the Sheriff’s Office. As a result, the two agencies work together closely.
“I certainly wish Chief Knight well in his retirement,” Kamerud said. “I’m really hoping that the next chief that comes in has that same spirit of cooperation and collaboration.”
Knight knew when it was time to take off the badge.
“People in this job in particular, but any job, will say you know when it’s time. And for me, while I hadn’t lost the interest and commitment, I felt the fire going out,” Knight said. “And then it’s time to leave.”
“There are things on the horizon — growth, staffing, new facilities and those kinds of things, and you’ve got to be all in,” he said.
“I think the policing profession will miss Scott Knight a great deal,” Skoogman said. “He led by example.”
However, Knight has already begun to relish retirement, spending some of his time diving into books and learning how to play the banjo.
Why the banjo? “I always liked it, but I never had time to commit to practicing,” Knight said. “I call it the happy instrument, because I’ve never heard any sad banjo songs.”
Knight is married. His youngest of three daughters is in high school, so he’s been able to support her in marching bands and other endeavors.
Knight looks forward to what the future holds. He’s been asked to serve on some boards, and is planning to work as a consultant.
He already has made plans to continue advocating for public safety at the Minnesota Capitol on behalf of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
Importantly, just a couple weeks ago, Knight received good news from his latest medical check-up. He celebrated his fifth year of being cancer-free, after being treated for squamous cell carcinoma in his jaw.
“It’s a positive indicator that there are many more things on the horizon,” Knight said. “My job is to be alert and aware, so I seize the opportunities that present themselves. There are reasons I’m still here, and I want to make sure I don’t blow it.”