After 27 years of service with Cornell Police and nearly a decade serving as Cornell University’s chief of police, Kathy Zoner will step down from that role March 4. She is leaving to become director of organizational assessments at Margolis Healy, a professional services firm that consults on safety and security needs for K-12 schools, universities and colleges throughout the United States.
Plans for Zoner’s successor will be developed in the coming weeks, according to Joanne DeStefano, Cornell executive vice president and chief financial officer.
“Ever since she began working at Cornell in 1991 as a dispatcher – and all through her subsequent roles of increasing responsibility – KZ has been dedicated to the safety of the Cornell community,” said DeStefano. “She has been a steady, clearsighted leader, serving with compassion and integrity, grounded in community engagement and the belief that a police force that is accessible to the communities it serves can help prevent violence and create an environment of safety and respect.”
DeStefano added: “KZ has developed an exceptional campus police force. Although we will miss her sense of humor and personal warmth, her department is ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.”
A graduate of Ohio State University and the FBI National Academy, Zoner was the first woman to serve as chief of police at Cornell. After a short term as dispatcher, she moved through the ranks as patrol officer, sergeant, special projects manager, lieutenant, captain and assistant director of Cornell Police before becoming deputy chief in 2007 and chief in 2009.
“KZ has always been front-and-center in handling difficult situations carefully and in rallying those around her to think in preventive terms about keeping people safe,” said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer. “She is a strong advocate of community policing, where officers strive to know and respect the people they serve.”
An outcome of this approach was the creation of Zoner’s weekly Blue Light safety email, which updates the Ithaca campus community on situations of concern and promotes a safe campus environment. The Blue Light email is expected to continue.
Under her leadership Cornell became, in 2010, the first university in New York to be accredited by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA).
In addition to her duties as chief, Zoner has been actively involved on campus. She currently is a house fellow at the Carl Becker House on West Campus. She also serves on the Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention, Coalition on Mental Health and the Cornell Behavioral Health Committee. She is on the University Assembly’s Codes and Judicial Committee and leads the Public Safety Advisory Committee. She chaired the Diversity Council for Human Resources and Safety Services, 2012-15.
Outside of Cornell, Zoner served on the Ithaca Rape Crisis board for more than 10 years, the majority of that time as president of its board of directors. She was awarded the Michael Padula Award in 2003 by the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission for her efforts in collaborations with the Cornell and Ithaca communities. She chairs the local law enforcement leaders’ organization, the Tompkins-Cortland Law Enforcement Administrators Group.
In June 2014, Zoner’s expertise was nationally recognized when she was asked to participate in a Washington, D.C., roundtable discussion on campus sexual assault led by then-Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. In December 2014, she testified before the U.S. Senate, addressing the topic of reducing sexual assault on campuses nationwide. Zoner also has been active with the IACLEA, as one of the association’s accreditation commissioners and, for the past two years, as chair of the association’s communications committee.
“While I am sad to leave Cornell,” Zoner said, “I feel that my new role with Margolis Healy will allow me to engage in the professional development of a greater number of higher education public safety organizations. I am excited for the opportunity to more broadly share the human relations knowledge and positive police-community relationship building I have gained while at Cornell.”
She added: “I will miss most my engagement with the students and creative mentoring I have received. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to build and lead such a wonderful team of public safety professionals. I am proud of my accomplishments, and I know that Cornell will work very hard to continue our tradition of people-first service to the Cornell community.”