In 1986, James Knutsen had to retire from the Tacoma Police Department because of a medical condition.
That never set well with Knutsen, who died May 18 at his home in Puyallup. After being in forced retirement for 15 years, he was able to return to the department – and did so for two days – in 2001.
“I am obeying the law, and then I’m going to retire,” Knutsen told The News Tribune at the time. “I didn’t like having to have to retire (on disability). In my heart, I know I could have stayed longer.”
Knutsen joined the department in 1967 and quickly ascended the ranks of the force, becoming an assistant chief in 1982. He retired four years later with a medical condition that put him at high risk for colon cancer, a disease that had killed two members of his family.
In 2000, when a checkup found the condition had gone away, Knutsen decided he wanted to return to the department.
After a prolonged process that involved three doctor examinations and discussions by the city’s Police Officers’ Disability Board, he was allowed back on the force at the position he held when he left – assistant chief.
Then-Chief Jim Hairston made room for Knutsen by demoting for two days an assistant chief and captain. Knutsen worked for two days, then retired again, this time for good.
The 69-year-old lifelong Puyallup resident died after battling cancer for more than two years.
“He was only supposed to make it six months” after his cancer diagnosis, his daughter, Kristy Jenkins, said Tuesday. “He made it two and a half years.”
She described her father as an everyday hero who put his family first and never missed a sports practice or game.
“It was his character that set him apart,” Jenkins said. “He did what he did because he believed it to be right.”
Knutsen grew up in Puyallup and graduated from Puyallup High School. He earned an associate’s degree at Tacoma Community College, a bachelor’s degree at the University of Puget Sound and a master’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University.
At the Tacoma Police Department, he made 137 felony arrests in 1969, setting the record, according to the obituary he penned for himself.
After his retirements, Knutsen stayed connected to his law enforcement brethren. He was among a group of retired Tacoma police chiefs and assistant chiefs who sued the city in 1999, claiming their pensions had been wrongly reduced. The group won the lawsuit.
He had a vault of knowledge about the department and was often quoted in News Tribune stories after then-Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal Judson, then himself in April 2003.
Knutsen also spent time golfing, traveling and working at the Puyallup Fair. He taught his four granddaughters how to golf.
In addition to his granddaughters, Knutsen is survived by his wife of more than 47 years, two children and their spouses, a sister and two brothers.
He was president of the Tacoma police’s retired chiefs association, which meets regularly for meals. Jenkins said her father attended the meetings up until a month before his death.
“He was so very upbeat and positive,” said Bill Barnes, a member of the Retired Tacoma Police Officers Association. “Jim just had the greatest, optimistic outlook on life.”