By Andrea Kelley
WESTMINSTER — Matt Patterson was sworn in as Westminster Police Chief on October 14.
Before that, he was a lieutenant, and long before that, he was a kid who played with parakeets.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side was very passionate about keeping birds – breeding, incubator, all that – and I grew up in that environment,” he said.
Patterson accompanied his grandfather to what he affectionately called “the birdhouse” to help care for the birds.
“I’ve seen him take baby canaries and finches and feed them with little syringes,” he said. “I grew up around them. I love them.”
When he wasn’t hanging out with his grandfather, Patterson dreamed of being a police officer.
“As a little boy, it was my dream,” he said. “Living in Liberty, seeing the Liberty cops…it’s always been there.”
In high school, he decided he wanted to “chase the EMT side,” so he trained and started working for Pickens County Emergency Services.
“I thought, well, if I can get my foot in the door somewhere, get my name mentioned in the circle, then maybe I can get in a truck somewhere,” Patterson said. “Once I got into that environment and got to see law enforcement and all the good that they can do…it kind of rekindled that flame that, no, that’s where I’m meant to be.”
Raising the bar
Patterson then made a ‘hard left’ return to law enforcement and worked at the Pickens County Detention Center until he married his wife, Brooke, and they moved to his hometown of Walhalla.
Patterson worked in the Seneca and Walhalla Police Departments and the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office before joining Westminster in 2015.
“It’s a dream, obviously, of anyone when you start out is, ‘Dude, I wish I was the boss or the sheriff’, you know?” he said. “I achieved my goal. But now that I have achieved my goal, I have goals within these goals that I want to achieve.
This includes upgrading the department’s technology – it has already ordered new ballistic vests for officers and is working to get laptops for patrol cars – and ensuring that reports of incident are thorough and professional.
“Chief (Dean) Awalt and Chief (Rory) Jones have set that bar really high…but we’re going to push that bar a little bit more,” Patterson said. “Hopefully the next chief behind me…just keep improving this department.”
It also maintains a high standard for how officers interact with the public. He explained it by borrowing a line from Andy Griffith – “Don’t go so much by the book as by the heart.”
“I’m a huge Andy Griffith fan, but there are a lot of good life lessons in Andy Griffith,” Patterson said. “One of my things here is that not everyone needs to go to jail. That person may need someone to talk to. There are other options, unless they don’t give you any other options.
He said his “great team” quickly picked up on this mentality.
“I don’t run this department on my own. I told my guys – it’s their department. I’m just the head of this department,” Patterson said. “It’s all of them. I’m just here to do the paperwork.
Family is the “#1 priority”
When he’s not reviewing reports, attending to officers’ injuries – “you should have a first aid kit in your car” – or drinking from one of the four coffee cups sitting around his desk, Patterson said he was “pretty boring”.
“I spend a lot of time with my family,” he said. “Home renovations. I have a to-do list. I’m working on one right now which I’ll continue on Friday. That’s really about it.
Then he mentioned that he took his Harley out on sunny days and casually described that time he made custom leather belts for Air Force Thunderbirds.
“There was a girl who was friends with my cousin. Her husband… wanted a belt with hand-tooled Thunderbirds on the back,” Patterson said. “He loved it…and then I ordered about 70 more belts. You mean a circus, trying to keep up.
Leatherworking was a hobby-turned-business that Patterson started about six years ago, and at one point was shipping cases and handbags internationally.
But eventually it became a burden, so he closed up shop and only works leather for small projects or to make a new belt.
Patterson tries to keep his off-duty life separate, but said it helps “humanize” police officers to see them as people.
“I’m the boss, but I’m also just a father and a husband,” he said. “In summary, these are my priorities. It’s a huge priority, but family is my #1 priority.
He spends as much time as possible with his wife and 17-year-old daughter, Claire, who is preparing for college and working at a veterinary clinic.
“She’s been there two years and loves it,” he said. “Animals are his passion.”
She’s not the only animal lover in the family.
“We have a Maltipoo named Charlie, a cat named Millie, and then our K9 Lina. She lives with me now,” Patterson said.
Of course, the family also had two parakeets, but…
“Mention of the cat…now we’re down to one,” he said with a sigh. “It was a sad day.”
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