A little over sixteen years ago, Jeff Knoop walked into a courtroom for the first time. He was a certified legal intern and still a year out from taking the bar exam. But he knew he was on the right track. And because of Marion County and Indianapolis’ caseload volume, Knoop (pronounced “KUH-noop”) had a lot of choices in tracks to travel.
First came working in domestic violence courts, then major felonies, then child abuse and sex crimes. “I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor, but never dreamed I would get into the child abuse and sex crimes,” he says. “I always thought it’d be a drug or gang prosecutor. But child sex abuse cases meshed with what I wanted to do.”
Outside of Marion County, the notion anyone could or would want to specialize in a specific kind of violence or crime might sound like a recipe for burnout or secondary trauma. Child abuse cases are hard to think about all day every day, especially at the volume Indianapolis brings. But because of the volume, prosecutors specialize in case types and develop expertise.
“For me, it was just an interest in that street-level crime,” says Knoop, adding, “Those were the ones that went out and randomly hurt people. The prosecutor in me—even before law school—always wanted to pursue the bad guy.” For better or worse, the experiences Marion County affords to people gives prosecutors the room to identify their true interests.
Through this lens, it’s easier to understand how a professional can develop the skills, wisdom, and relentless drive to help people with such intense focus on one kind of crime. And why, on April 1, 2010, Knoop moved to the Marion County Child Advocacy Center as its new Assistant Director.
Marion County is one of only a few CACs in Indiana that are fully Prosecutor-led. All CACs have close relationships with their prosecutors, but Marion County’s CAC is fully an arm of the Prosecutor’s Office, including all the benefits and trappings of being a government-led operation.
As the Assistant Director, Knoop dutifully screened tens of thousands of cases over the years and helped schedule forensic interviews, court hearings, and manage other day-to-day operations. After sixteen years in the Prosecutor’s Office, it’s hard to imagine there were any challenges left unseen. But then came COVID-19, the occasional office shut-down for cleaning, staffing issues caused by sick or COVID-positive staff, and then four Executive Directors cycling in and out for various reasons over the last year. To top it off, Prosecutor Ryan Mears named Knoop the CAC’s Executive Director in October 2021.
“My biggest goal for this next year is to just get us settled in,” says Knoop. “We have one of the best teams we’ve ever had right now. We want to do the best interviews, connect families with our Victim Advocates, and put together really good cases to prosecute.”
Every CAC, regardless of how it’s funded or staffed, conducts forensic interviews that allow children to share their experiences. And in every case, law enforcement officers are looking for clues to help find illegal acts or cause to arrest a perpetrator. Caseworkers are trying to assess neglect and how safe a child is. Each member of the multidisciplinary team has a job to do.
“CACs have better subject matter expertise,” says Knoop. “We have an independent view to be an in-between for law enforcement, Prosecution, and others. CACs are looking at everything.”
“I’m enjoying where I’m at,” he says. “It’s a different situation for me, but we have a strong and long-term position here.”