Note: Matt Brown was introduced as Port Orchard’s new police chief in the first in a series of articles appearing in Kitsap Daily News on Aug. 29. Here’s the second part in the series:
PORT ORCHARD — New police chief Matt Brown said he was fortunate to take the helm of the Port Orchard Police Department for a number of reasons — it has been most fortunate, he says, that this essential public-service agency is a smooth-running outfit employing dedicated law enforcement people who perform their jobs with skill and efficiency.
But he says that doesn’t mean the police department is above the need for change and improvement.
“This group of people that I work for here in this department are some of the best in the state and they continue to strive,” said Brown, who has been on the job in Port Orchard since July.
Brown was selected from a wide field of candidates to replace the retiring Chief Geoffrey Marti. He previously was deputy police chief in Poulsbo for 20 months. Earlier in his law enforcement career, Brown was chief criminal deputy with the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, held various positions within the Lakewood, Washington, police department and was a sheriff’s deputy in Pierce County.
In an interview with the Independent last week, Brown said he strives to be a servant leader who works “for” his officers and staff. In an effort to bring value to his organization and to get to know each employee better, Brown has been conducting one-on-one meetings with each team member in his short time here.
One belief he shares with team members is that his organizational chart is shaped not like the traditional pyramid where the CEO sits above everyone else. Instead, Brown envisions it as shaped like an upended tree, which allows him to provide resources to everyone, not just supervise from above.
“I bring in resources to support people and allow them to grow,” he said of his organizational philosophy. “That’s a belief and philosophy I got from some of my mentors.
“It’s like a football team. You’ve got a great quarterback, but if you don’t have a good offensive line, or if you have a good line but the coaching staff is terrible, you can’t make the whole system work well.”
Brown said that striving for excellence is not an achievable goal unless expectations are tempered by understanding there’s always room to improve and grow. And that’s essential since the new police chief recognizes societal expectations are always changing, necessitating new approaches and processes.
The chief expects to soon introduce some training components in which his staff will receive implicit bias training to address a new state mandate on de-escalation awareness.
“We’ll bring in some of that training so when we go out working in the community, we will have a better understanding of everyone,” he said. “We just want to be able to give them all the tools they need when working in the community, whether they’re mindset tools or something else.
“It’s all about having that strong framework.”
Brown said he wants to encourage more transparency in his department’s relationship with the Port Orchard community — good or bad.
“We have to be willing to open ourselves up to the criticism,” he noted. “We can’t hunker down — we work for the community, we ARE the community. If we don’t listen to how they feel and what they believe, we can’t improve.”
Willing to listen
But first, Brown said the police department’s command staff must cultivate an environment in which officers are always willing to listen to community members. Port Orchard’s top cop said policing practices of 10 years ago don’t necessarily work today. Community attitudes, he said, are constantly changing, as does case law.
“It’s part of continuing to improve — improve yourself, improve the department and team. If you’re doing the right thing, we need to go out and share that with the community. If we’re doing the wrong thing, we need to not only fix it but share the fact that, ‘Here are some of the mistakes we made and here’s what we’ve done to fix it.’
“We work for folks. They should know all the things that we’re doing. If we’re not out in the community and talking about those things, we’re doing the community and the officers a disservice.”
Brown said that willingness to “bare everything” is the key ingredient in building trust.
“If you’re not willing to talk about something and want to keep it hidden, that’s how you lose that trust. You still may be doing the right thing, but if nobody knows about it or you’re hiding information, people will [make assumptions] themselves.”
But while communities change — attitudes ebb and flow and demographic statistics rise and fall — Brown said he believes the job of a law enforcement officer ultimately remains the same at its core level, regardless of those changes.
“We police the same,” he said. “Service is service. There can be differences in what a community expects, but I’m not going to treat a guy who works at the shipyard any differently than a guy who works for Microsoft.”