Servant leadership: A philosophy in which an individual interacts with others — either in a management or fellow employee capacity — with the aim of achieving authority rather than power. The authority figure intends to promote the well-being of those around him or her. Characteristics: empathy, listening, stewardship and commitment to personal growth toward others.
PORT ORCHARD — New Police Chief Matt Brown considers himself a servant leader — which is shorthand for being of service to his law enforcement department and community, not expecting others to serve him.
Brown, who joined the Port Orchard Police Department July 8 to replace retiring Chief Geoffrey Marti, had that philosophy ingrained into him early. The 44-year-old law enforcement veteran comes from a family of public servants — his father was an emergency room physician, his mother, a special education teacher, and his sister, a victims’ advocate within the judicial court system.
But before Port Orchard’s new police chief took over from Marti — prior to his career as a deputy chief in Poulsbo, a chief criminal deputy with the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, a patrol sergeant with the City of Lakewood, Washington, and a deputy sheriff with Pierce County — the affable Brown got his first taste of law enforcement from a fellow with the same last name: Encyclopedia Brown.
As a youngster growing up in Walla Walla, Brown voraciously read the 29-book series chronicling the adventures of a boy detective named Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown, a boy detective who solved crime mysteries from his own agency run out of his garage.
“Encyclopedia Brown” helped spur the future chief’s interest in law enforcement. “I’d read those books and I’d go, ‘Oh, I want to do that’ and solve crimes,” he said.
But while the fantasy world’s Brown was a one-boy crime-solving machine, the real world’s Brown knows that a police officer, department and command staff can’t do it alone. It takes a collaborative effort on the part of everyone to effectively operate the police department of a growing community. And that collaborative philosophy through servant leadership is promulgated at the top
“I’m a big believer in servant leadership. I would hope that if you talked to the guys and gals here, they would say that,” Brown said during an interview earlier this week.
“I don’t have all the answers and I don’t have all the institutional knowledge here. But I can certainly bring in some ideas and I’m hoping that people will share the vision that I have. Realistically, I work for them.”
Although he’s been on the job here for a little less than two months, Brown and his wife, Darcy, have been Port Orchard residents for a year and a half. After returning to the west side of the state from his stint in Walla Walla, the couple decided to settle in South Kitsap, which is equidistant between his Poulsbo work location and that of his wife, who took a job in the Tacoma area.
“[Port Orchard] was kind of a good middle ground for us,” he said. “We always wanted to live on this side of the bridge, anyway, and it was a good opportunity to do that.”
But after Marti indicated his desire to retire and Mayor Rob Putaansuu began recruiting to replace him, Brown nearly passed on the opportunity in Port Orchard. While the position was attractive — and, if chosen, it would have eliminated his long Poulsbo commute — Brown’s career path there had been set in motion with a goal of taking over as police chief in that city.
His wife Darcy, however, reminded Brown to consider taking his own advice: “My wife told me, ‘You tell everybody that ‘opportunities aren’t convenient,’ and yet you’re not taking this opportunity right in front of you, right where you live.’”
That was advice — and a timely reminder — that he took to heart. He applied for the position, interviewed before three boards, then participated in a community “meet-and-greet” session after becoming a finalist. And after an extensive interview with the mayor, Brown was selected May 6 to become Port Orchard’s new police chief. He was unanimously approved by the City Council later that month.
Brown said he believes Putaansuu chose him for the post because the two share a common vision of the police department’s role in the community — and of what direction the city is to follow in the coming decades. Port Orchard is expected to triple in size by 2050, necessitating a large growth in infrastructure and city government services, including policing.
He said he’s appreciative the city’s leadership recognizes, like it or not, that the Port Orchard of today will look much different in 30 years. Market forces beyond the community’s control will dictate much of its growth.
“I’ve worked in communities that declined to recognize that change is coming and, as a result, have gotten behind the eight-ball and have paid the price,” Brown said.
To respond to changing community needs, the new police chief said that as a servant leader, it’s critical that he be flexible and open to change and constructive criticism.
“I think I bring a lot of energy. I’m really passionate about law enforcement, compassionate about the people who are in it and want them to be as successful as possible,” Brown said.
“If you were to ask me 15 years ago when I was a young cop or on SWAT working graveyard, what would I believe in most, I certainly wouldn’t have said, ‘process and systems.’ But that’s really how command staff can support the officers on the street. It’s not just expectations. It’s not, ‘when you go out, here’s what you should do,’ because they already know that.
“But it’s [officers understanding that] if they get into a pursuit, they know the process to follow after that. If there’s a use of force, they know the process following that.”
Although Brown’s commute to work has been greatly reduced by his venue change, working in the city you live in presents its own set of challenges. He admitted it can sometimes be difficult.
“You always have to be ‘on’ when you live and work in the same community,” he said. “It’s a little bit different because I wear a uniform. Oftentimes people don’t recognize my face when I’m in civilian clothes. But that’s happened in other areas I’ve worked in where people recognize me in the grocery store.
“That means you’ve always got to be ‘on,’ always aware. Sometimes that can add to your stress. But I don’t get that sense here. It’s just a great place, period.”
Coming up: Police Chief Brown shares his thoughts on his new police department, issues that officers increasingly must deal with on the street and his hopes in improving communication between law enforcement and the community.