Robin Knoll is the chaplain at the Waukesha Police Department, but the men and women who interact with him consider him as much more.
They consider him one of them.
Sgt. Kevin Rice likened Knoll’s relationship with the department during an April 23 interview as a reporter “embedded” with an Army troop overseas – going through the same motions and seeing the same tragedies.
“It is kind of like Robin is living and breathing and responding to the same calls we are responding to,” Rice said.
Knoll started working with the department in the fall of 2007 after making the connection through Elmbrook Church, which was the home church of the previous chaplain. Knoll, who has both a pastoral and industrial background, interviewed with then-Chief Les Sharrock.
“They were looking for another chaplain,” explained Knoll in an April 18 interview. “… It was clear that they were looking for a volunteer.”
During Knoll's interview with Sharrock, the police chief decided have the next chaplain at the department be Knoll. Knoll's the president of Inspiration Ministries, an organization that provides residences and respite care for people with disabilities.
With them in tragedies
Knoll is involved with death notifications and dead on arrival calls, hospital support, suicides and a few homicides. He follows up with officers and family members of victims to offer trauma and grief counseling.
Knoll also is the coordinator of the critical incident stress management team at the police department. The team is to help care for the officers that are involved at emotional and tragic scenes.
“My first and foremost task is to make sure all of the officers are OK, that they are dealing with whatever the scene is and whatever the emotions are, that there is no officer in need,” Knoll said. “Then I start working with the families that are involved with the tragedy.”
Knoll, who described the past four years with the department using one word – “awesome,” has spent time making himself available to the officers. Whether it is riding with the officers during their shifts or being free to drop everything at a moments notice to respond to a sensitive call.
Rice said that Knoll’s early commitment to the department was seen by the officers. When Knoll rides with the officer, they aren’t closed off because Knoll is a “non-traditional chaplain” who provides the normal chaplain services, Rice explained.
“Robin has responded to so many deaths and suicides and the two homicides, and he came to those on scene,” Rice said. “He has come in 30 minutes. We barely have time to get the scene secured and Robin is there before the medical examiner has arrived.”
Knoll has worked hard to develop a relationship with all of the officers at the department, said Sgt. Jerry Habanek.
“That is no easy feat,” Habanek said. “Cops are pretty guarded people. He has spent hours and hours riding with officers. They trust him, which is a big deal with cops. That is because of the amount of time that he has put in here.”
With them in good times
Despite responding to tragedies with the officers, Knoll also has acted as their chaplain during the good times. The chaplain has given pre-marital counseling and officiated wedding services for the officers as well.
“I am absolutely astounded by the level of professionalism, the level of education that the officers bring to the job, the commitment to the job and their acceptance of me," Knoll said. "Because of the way that they include me and treat me, I tell people I am non-paid staff. I feel that welcome at the department.”
Knoll said he would do anything for any of the officers. Rice said the police department views Knoll as being part of the family.
“He gels well with everybody,” Rice said. “He is easy to talk to, and he is a lot of fun. No one looks at him as a chaplain. He doesn’t wear a black coat and a white necktie. He is just Robin.”
Knoll said that one of the ways that has helped his time with the police department is the support he has had from the administrative staff, including Police Chief Russell Jack.
When Knoll speaks with an officer, he keeps those conversations confidential. Chief Jack has been respectful of that confidentiality and hasn’t pried for more information, Knoll said.
Jack, in an April 18 interview, described Knoll “invaluable asset” to the police department and the community.
“The employees mental wellbeing is just as important as their physical wellbeing,” Jack said. “Robin is a resource for them for somebody to talk to about a variety of issues. Robin is a very kind, patient and understanding man.”
Knoll’s best attribute is his listening abilities, Jack said, and that has made him stand out to the police chief.
“You almost immediately feel a comfort level with Robin,” Jack said. “You can open and talk to him with just about any topic. I feel very comfortable with Robin. … I can’t say enough good things about him.”