Longtime Lockhart police officer set to retire
By Wesley Gardner
Lockhart Police Lt. Chris Knudsen still remembers what it was like to be the only officer on duty at night for the entire city of Lockhart.
“Back then, being such a small department, after 11, 12 at night, you were the only police officer for the city,” said Knudsen. “There was a police officer in Luling, but those were the only two law enforcement officials that were out for the entire county.”
By back then, Knudsen meant the late 80’s, when the small town of Lockhart was actually a small town and rapid growth hadn’t yet hit Caldwell County.
Knudsen, who was born in the city and graduated from Lockhart High School, has been a staple in the community for more than three decades. He was a firefighter with the Lockhart Fire Department. He was a patrol officer for the police department. He served as the department’s juvenile officer, a prelude to what’s now known as a school resource officer.
He worked his way up through the department, eventually earning the rank of Lieutenant, where he supervised the communications division, the criminal investigation division, the records management division, evidence and property management and the internal affairs division.
But Knudsen’s presence in the community was felt beyond his years on the force. He was on the board of directors for the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce and served as its president in 2004. He volunteered for the Lockhart school district. He’s participated in the Chisholm Trail Roundup for 25 years. He was a coordinator for the Helmets for Kids program. He’s been everywhere.
Knudsen will be retiring after more than 30 years on the force. A retirement celebration will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 5 on the third floor of the Eugene Clark Library. The public is invited to attend.
“I just want to thank him for all the years of service he’s provided to Lockhart Police Department and the citizens of Lockhart,” said Lockhart Police Chief Ernesto Pedraza. “It felt really good working with and we’re going to miss all the work he’s done.”
Knudsen’s initially started off his career in 1978 as a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Lockhart Fire Department.
“Back then, things were pretty slow,” said Knudsen. “We didn’t have a lot of fires.
“The population was only around 7,000. We did a lot of pre-fire planning and inspections. We ran the EMS service, as well. That took up probably 80-90 percent of our time, running EMS calls.”
Knudsen worked for the fire department for nearly 10 years, but said he always felt a strong calling to police work.
“Over the years I’ve had several family members that were involved in law enforcement,” said Knudsen. “My dad was in law enforcement and he did not want me to go into it.
“He knew what it would be like. He wanted me to go down another path.”
Knudsen’s father had previously worked as a police officer for the city of Austin, as well a deputy U.S. Marshall. Following his father’s death, Knudsen eventually decided he pursue the career.
“After he passed away, something in me said, ‘I want to go follow in his footsteps,’” Knudsen said, citing his father’s work ethic as one of the sources of his inspiration. “I talked to the fire chief at the time and told him what I’d like to do, and he said, ‘OK, as long as you won’t leave the fire department, I’ll send you to the police academy and you can be an arson investigator.’
“That’s actually how I got my law enforcement certification.”
Knudsen performed in that capacity for three more years before officially making the jump to the police department in 1987, where he began his career in law enforcement as a patrol officer, something he said he thoroughly enjoyed.
According to Knudsen, only one police officer was on duty at night overseeing the entire city when he first joined the department. The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have 24-hour patrol at the point and the next closest police officer was a single cop in Luling.
“You learn to deal with people in a totally different way than they do now,” said Knudsen. “You didn’t have back up there, and you didn’t have the resources you may need.
“We specialized in verbal judo. You learn verbal judo very well and how to use to diffuse situations instead of making them more intense … It was more community policing. You tried to figure out the problem. How can we solve this for tonight? How can we solve this in the long run? I’m still going to see you next week in the grocery store when I’m off and you’re sober. So how do we handle this?”
Because Knudsen had spent his entire life growing up in the community, he said it was a bit of a transition knowing he’d sometimes have to deal with people he knew, but it was never anything he had any issues with.
In 1995, Knudsen was promoted to the juvenile division, where he set the stage for future school resource officers.
“Charles Red, who was a principal at the high school at the time wanted me to get more involved with the school system,” said Knudsen. “We worked security at the football games, the dances.
“You name it and I was pretty much there, so the kids got to know me. Once they figured out that I wasn’t out there to write everybody a ticket and throw everybody in juvenile court, I was able to develop a lot of information.”
When a fire was started at the local HEB in 1997, it only took Knudsen and his team a few hours to track down the culprits.
“We were able to ID the juveniles that set that fire within just a matter of a couple of hours after the fire started, and it was all because of the relationships we had developed with the youth in the community,” Knudsen said. “They trusted us.
“They respected us. And we trusted them and respected them. That’s what it’s all about, building that trust.”
Following his stint with the juvenile division, Knudsen was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2002 and lieutenant in 2006, where he took on a supervisor role over several divisions. According to Knudsen, the nearly 20 years he’d already spent at the department often allowed him to assist his fellow officers with cases.
“You can read a case that an officer has done and if they’ve done a good job reporting everything, there are a lot of times where you can say, ‘you know what, go look at this guy over here,’” he said. “You can tell one of the detectives, I think this guy might be good for this, just based on the fact that you’ve dealt with them before.”
Chief Pedraza echoed that sentiment.
“He knew everyone in town,” said Pedraza. “Anytime they were looking for somebody, a suspect or whatever, all we’d have to do is ask him.
“Not only would he know the suspect, but he’d know their parents. He’d know their friends. He was like a database.”
Reflecting on his career in law enforcement, Knudsen lamented what he’s seen as a degradation of the relationship between officers and the community, noting most of the officers currently working for the department live outside the city.
“The police officers have to buy into the community,” said Knudsen. “They have to stop looking at it as ‘this is my job. I get a paycheck for this. I’m supposed to work from 6 to 6 and when I go home and don’t want to hear anything about Lockhart. I don’t want to be involved in anything in Lockhart after hours.’
“You can’t do that. You can’t do that and succeed in this business. You just can’t do it. You’ve got to earn the community’s trust and respect. You’ve got to be involved in your community.”
Concerning his retirement, Knudsen said he’s excited about being able to spend more time with his grandchildren.
“I’m going to become a full-time Paw-Paw,” he said with a wide grin. “There were a lot of times, especially when I was on patrol, that I missed out on stuff because I was working on Christmas day.
“I was working on a birthday and I didn’t get to go to that party, or I didn’t get to see them on Christmas morning to open their presents. I know [my children] didn’t like that. My wife didn’t like it. I didn’t like it, but that’s part of the job. I hope with my grandkids I’m not going to miss that stuff, so that’s my plan right now.”
Knudsen said he would still be present in the community, though on a more limited basis.
“I’m not going away,” Knudsen said. “I’m still going to be involved to a certain extent with community events.
“I will still be around. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do what I’ve done.”