Boone County Goes Blue
Writer / Janelle Morrison
They are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers or mothers. They have hopes, dreams and fears just like everyone else. What makes these individuals particularly unique is that they are willing to risk their lives on a daily basis for someone that they may never meet. They laugh, shed tears and yes, they can even be wounded and die.
As a community, we rely on these brave men and women to protect and serve us. The 21st century has begun a new era of insecurity and scrutiny on the effectiveness of public safety nationwide. Police departments across the nation have been under direct attack, and officers have been targeted and killed in the line of duty. Beyond the grim and horrific accounts of these atrocities are the stories of honor, love and appreciation for the men and women in blue.
Recently, the residents of Boone County have coordinated appreciation days for their local law enforcement agencies. Zionsville Town Councilor Bryan Traylor and his wife Lindsay coordinated an appreciation rally that was held in front of the Zionsville Police Department July 22. With the help of Amber Martin, the wife of Patrol Officer Cody Martin, who assisted in getting the word out, the Traylors succeeded in coordinating a meaningful gathering of residents who enjoyed a casual evening of getting to know their local officers.
The American Legion Post 79 hosted a Zionsville Appreciation Day at their facility August 14. An estimated 300-400 people attended the event. The agenda included a cookout and activities for kids, a police mission presentation and a remembrance memorial.
The Zionsville Chief of Police Robert Knox spoke about what those events meant to him and his officers.
“I am so proud of our men and women, not only the Zionsville Police Department, but all of the law enforcement agencies and public safety agencies that we have the opportunity and the privilege to work side by side with,” Knox expressed. “I see them going out day and night, 24/7, and they never really know if they’re going to get to come home at the end of the day or when tragedy is going to strike home within our community. This is what literally sometimes keeps me up at night.
“We can never lose sight of the fact that we’re a suburb of a metropolitan area, and some of the tragic things that occur are within 10 miles, in a straight line, of our community. We can never get complaisant and think that bad things will never happen here.
“We are always on duty. We are always looking to see how people are doing to see if anyone’s in distress or having any kind of problems. We want everybody to be safe and happy because life is very short. Our officers are really good people and care passionately about what they do.
“The community’s support is so desperately needed, appreciated and humbling. We are, to a degree, accustomed to the support because it is such an amazing community that has always supported us. In the wake of the last few months, to have so many people bringing food by, the pats on the back, the kind words, the appreciation rallies and days organized for us, it’s all been just very humbling. Our elected officials are also very supportive. We have a supportive mayor, deputy mayor, town council and a tremendous board of police commissioners that I answer to, in addition to the population of 26,000 that make up our community.”
Knox spoke on their department’s outreach efforts with the Zionsville community. The ZPD offers a Teen Academy and partners with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Zionsville to reach out to the teens of Zionsville. The purpose of the academy is to allow teens to better understand police officers and to strengthen the relationship between the police department and the community.
The ZPD is always seeking opportunities to develop new Neighborhood Watch programs. They strongly believe that by providing residents with valuable crime prevention information, they may reduce the likelihood of a citizen becoming a victim of crime.
The department is also dedicated to its involvement with the Special Olympics and to the community schools and enjoys a strong partnership with Dr. Robison, Superintendent of the Zionsville Community Schools and his staff.
“We are all on the same team wanting the same things for our community,” Knox said.
The Boone County Sheriff Michael Nielsen, who works closely with the county’s police chiefs and town marshals, also weighed in on the current culture of law enforcement and what the local support of the citizens and elected officials means to the sheriff’s department.
“We live in a different world than we did five years ago,” Nielsen said. “Our lives are changing as citizens, as law enforcement and public safety officials. We have much more responsibility than we ever have. I still have hope that the overall attitude towards police is very positive. The recent outpouring of kind gestures, letters and other acts of support that we have seen from our citizens throughout the county is a testament to that belief. We see have seen these ups and downs occur over the course of the last several decades.
“Unfortunately, we’re in one of those upswings now where it seems that police just can’t do anything right, and the media always jumps to conclusions. That’s the frustrating part for me, having done this for 33 years, is that I’ve seen these changes and have seen how it has affected people. I’ve seen how it has affected careers of law enforcement officers.
“Every day, we are faced with more and more challenges. As the sheriff, it’s a little bit different than being the police chief or the state police superintendent or a town marshal. I don’t work for the county council or the county commissioner. I work for the 64,000 people in this county. Along with that population comes an increase of challenges.
“Across this country today, law enforcement are facing a lot of different issues, and one of those is the increase in opiate addiction that we’re seeing throughout the nation. Boone County is not alone in this fight. We are experiencing levels that we have not experienced in years and are approaching epidemic level.
“The other challenge that we’re finding with some of the things that are happening nationally is that it’s hard to find good people that want to be police officers. It used to be a sought-after job, but when you see several police officers killed at the same time over the course of the last few months, that makes people shy away from wanting to be in this industry anymore. We truly are at war when we put this uniform on and even when we’re off duty. It doesn’t make a difference. We are that target now.
“Hopefully, that will change, but I gain hope in that the majority of the people that live in this county are really good people. The people that I have as inmates, most are really good people that have made some bad mistakes. It’s my responsibility to get them rehabilitated.”
The Boone County Sheriff’s Department offers a G.E.D. program to their inmates, faith-based programs, anger management programs, drug counseling, rehabilitation and other programs to assist the inmates with their mental and physical health, addiction recovery and rehabilitation within their facility.
“Some people just want to be arrested, so that they can get help,” Nielsen said. “We give them hope again. It’s unfortunate that we have to be that facility that does this, but when they are here, I want to give them the utmost respect that I can and try to rehabilitate them, so when they leave, they are an integral part of society again.”
Since there are currently no detoxification centers in Boone County, the Boone County Jail serves in that capacity, and under Sheriff Nielsen’s leadership, their department has become the model in the rehabilitation of inmates and breaking the cycle of opiate addiction.
In addition to using the lifesaving drug, Narcan™, which is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose, Nielsen’s department provides addicted inmates with VIVITROL® and counseling which may help with opioid or alcohol dependence. The program includes a six-month treatment plan where the inmate receives a dose 48 hours before their release from jail. It eliminates their urge to go out and immediately try to get another high. They continue to get shots of Vivitrol every 28 days for six months.
The sheriff’s department works with the respective agencies to get the inmate signed up for Medicare, Medicaid and other assistance programs to cover the expenses of the drug therapy and addiction counseling that the individuals will need once they are released from Nielsen’s care.
Nielsen concluded by emphasizing that there continues to be a need to educate the public about the challenges and the outreach programs that the local law enforcement and public safety agencies have available.
“It’s about going out and educating the public, reading books to the kids in school and interacting with them every single day, so that they have respect for law enforcement,” he said. “We are doing everything that we can to expose the sheriff’s office and the other law enforcement and public safety agencies in general, so that the public understands that we are not the bad guys.”