ITHACA, N.Y. — After 27 years with the Cornell University Police Department and nearly 10 years as chief, Kathy Zoner is retiring March 4. On Monday, she was honored for her lengthy service to Cornell and the local community.
The Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga presented Chief Zoner with the Frank G. Hammer Officer of the Month Award on Monday. Every month, the club honors local emergency responders for their service.
Deputy Chief of Cornell Police David Honan said Zoner will be remembered for her “wit, humor, dedication and connection to the Cornell and the greater Tompkins County community.” He highlighted some advancements at the Cornell University Police Department under her long tenure, including implementing body cameras, as well as training on contemporary issues like how to respond to an active killer situation and forensic experiential trauma interviewing, and the popular “blue light safety” emails that connect the campus community with important safety information.
Zoner joined the department in 1991 as a dispatcher and moved up through the ranks in her nearly 30 years at the department. She served as a patrol officer, sergeant, special projects manager, lieutenant, captain, assistant director, deputy chief, and finally chief in 2009 — and she was the first woman to serve in that role at Cornell.
District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said Monday was a bittersweet occasion. He said Zoner very much deserves the recognition but said her departure will be a big loss to the local law enforcement community.
“This award is a part of a legacy that Chief Zoner has left at Cornell, and I don’t think you can think about Cornell Police without thinking about Chief Zoner,” Van Houten said.
Outside of leading the university’s police department, Zoner has been a part of committees and boards on and off campus, such as the Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention, the Coalition on Mental Health, and the Ithaca Rape Crisis board. She has also been called on nationally for discussions about campus sexual assault. In December 2014, she testified before the U.S. Senate, providing ideas to the judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism on how to bolster federal laws to reduce sexual assault on college campuses nationwide.
In 2014, the Cornell Chronicle quoted Zoner telling senators, “I … strongly urge you to target education and prevention programs at middle and high schools to begin to address cultural issues surrounding sex, alcohol and controlled substance usage, and consent before students arrive at college. … Attitudes and perceptions about sex, healthy relationships and gender roles solidify long before young people reach college age. … The earlier we can begin education around respect and civility across gender lines at a more meaningful and impactful time, the better chance we have to make the sweeping cultural changes necessary to get at the root of this problem.”
For her next chapter, Zoner will become the director of organizational assessments of Margolis Healy, a firm specializing in campus safety, security and regulatory compliance for higher education and K-12 across the U.S. Over the years, Zoner said she has learned so much both from her colleagues at the department and in the community, and said she is looking forward to going out to other institutions and helping them in her new role.
Cornell recently announced that Honan, who joined the department in 1995, will take over to the lead department, which is made up of 68 members, 43 of which are police officers, according to Cornell Police.
Police officers who work at college campuses have a unique job compared to other municipalities’ departments. They work with a community of almost entirely 18 to 24-year-olds, and handle situations with more of an educational perspective versus an enforcement perspective, she said.
Zoner said she was honored that her accomplishments were being recognized Monday, but said behind all of those accomplishments, “we all know it takes a remarkable team to support.”
As a last note, Zoner left words of inspiration for her colleagues gathered at Kendal at Ithaca on Monday.
“There isn’t a person in this room that doesn’t have the power to change the world. I also think that, whether you have the power to change the world or not, whether you believe that or not, it’s what you do with that power that makes the difference in the world,” Zoner said. “Using your powers for good, doing what you’re charged with, facing adversity even though you know the community isn’t going to be 100 percent behind you all the time, but doing your job the best way that you can, that’s the legacy I hope you are all continuing even if I’m stepping out of it.”
Zoner is joining a list of recent or soon-to-be retirees from local law enforcement and emergency response. Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler announced he will retire in the spring after 27 years at the IPD. In January, Lee Shurtleff announced he is retiring from the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response after three decades of service in the county. Trumansburg Police Chief Thomas Ferretti retired in the summer after 51 years in law enforcement. And in December, Sgt. Kelly Daley, from New York State Police in Ithaca, retired after 30 years.
Featured image: From left, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten, Chief Kathy Zoner, Deputy Chief David Honan and Kiwanis President Joshua Adams.