A top cop who happens to be a woman

Ozaukee County’s first female undersheriff didn’t set out to shatter the glass ceiling but instead is driven by her love of law enforcement

NEW UNDERSHERIFF CHRISTY KNOWLES, pictured outside the Ozaukee County Justice Center, joined the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office in 1999 as a jail deputy. The Cedar Grove native worked her way through the ranks to become the department’s first woman to be its second in command. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Christy Knowles never set out to be the first woman undersheriff for the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

She just wanted to be a good cop.

“I know it’s a big thing to talk about the female thing,” she said last week. “But that never dawned on me coming up. 

“I hope to be a role model and make my kids proud but I just love all the aspects of being a cop.”

That’s not how she started out, however.

Growing up in Cedar Grove and graduating from Cedar Grove-Belgium High School, Knowles, whose maiden name is Dlapa, went to college for four years and earned a degree in medical assistance in 1999.

As she was beginning her job search, her mother told her about a help wanted ad: The Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office needed deputies.

She passed through the application process and was hired.

“When I started I knew I wanted to go to patrol,” she said. 

While a jail deputy, she was selected by Sheriff Jim Johnson, who was a jail sergeant at the time, to teach unarmed physical control techniques and team control tactics. 

“She struck me as an effective communicator and being tactically sound,” Johnson said in an email.

After two years, she was promoted to patrol and was selected to be an instructor in defense and arrest tactics, training the patrol staff to hone their skills in handcuffing and physical control techniques.

“That was very physical,” Knowles said, putting to rest the notion that women can’t handle the physicality of the job. “He (Johnson) pushed me to do it and believed in me.”

She stayed on patrol until 2007, but not before she began to work sensitive crimes, such as sexual assaults, domestic violence and child abuse.

“It was just that I was good at it; talking to victims and to suspects. I knew if I could get them talking I could put them away for a long time,” she said. 

“I just had the drive for that position or those cases.” 

In 2007 she was promoted to detective, continuing to specialize in sensitive crimes.

Being a woman helped, she said.

“We have great men who can do those cases. But it might be easier for victims to talk to a woman about it sometimes because you get into sensitive and maybe embarrassing areas,” she said.

In January 2013 she was promoted to be one of the department’s three lieutenants, overseeing the patrol division, helping develop training policies, reports and the general running of the division.

Johnson said he encouraged her to apply for the lieutenant’s job.

“This was a difficult decision for her as her passion is with empowering victims and helping them transition to survivors through the diligent pursuit of justice,” Johnson said.

“But the transition into a leadership role with the Sheriff’s Office was a smooth one owing to her communications skills and sound tactics.”

Two years later, she was promoted to operations captain, one of two captains in the department. 

She was instrumental in initiating the Crisis Intervention Program, which trains sheriff’s personnel to recognize signs of mental illness and to act accordingly. 

“It helps them to identify people who don’t always need to go to jail. It might be PTSD, autism, dementia,” she said. “It also helps toward officer wellness.”

Plans are to expand that training to local emergency responders and others, she said.

Besides her work with the Sheriff’s Office, Knowles teaches at the police recruit academy at Waukesha County Technical College. She also coaches her daughter’s seventh grade basketball team. She has three children.

Knowles said she feels a sense of accomplishment becoming undersheriff, succeeding Jeff Taylor, and being the first woman to attain the position.

But it’ not the most important thing.

“Women are a minority in this profession and I worked hard to get where I am, but there are a lot of peple who helped me,” she said.

Those mentors include Johnson and her father-in-law, retired Chief Deputy Jim Knowles. The chief deputy position was renamed undersheriff after he left.

“Chief Deputy Knowles has always had great advice for me. Sheriff Johnson has always been a great mentor to me.

“I love who I work with, the people around me. From jail to patrol to detective — but going from investigation into administration, that was difficult for me.”

But one bonus of her job as an administrator is  community relations, she said.

“I get to meet so many great people because of all the great programs we have. I love coming to work  every day,” she said.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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