Matthews Police Chief Rob Hunter retired effective Oct. 1, leaving the department after 30 years of service — 24 of those as police chief.
During Hunter’s time on the force he’s seen the Town of Matthews grow from 5,600 residents in 1987 to about 31,000 residents today. Under his guidance the police department has grown from a total of 21 employees to today’s roster of 75, including 58 of sworn officers. The department also has 25 citizen volunteers among it ranks.
But policing wasn’t his first career choice. His original plan was to teach special education in the public schools. So how did a young college graduate with a degree in education degree end up in uniform?
“I tell people that I credit my career to the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system,” said Hunter.
Before he graduated from Winthrop University, the South Carolina native was promised a job teaching at CMS. But just before school started, a hiring freeze was implemented before he signed the contract for his job. He taught in Georgia for a year, then moved back to Charlotte after being offered another position at CMS – that also fell through just before school began.
Newly married, he needed work, and a friend told him about an opening at the Matthews Police Department. It’s been his home ever since.
“When I first started here, it was a completely different place. Turnover was bad and the atmosphere was awful. Some officers told me just to come in, get my car and radio, and not go back in to the station unless I absolutely had to,” said Hunter.
“It was hard those first few years, but I was always taught that when you commit to something, you follow through.”
And that’s what he’s done as chief for the past two and half decades, raising the profile of the department to one of the best in the region. He’s particularly proud of his employees.
“ I think my biggest accomplishment has been focusing on the quality of employees that we hire. It’s paid great dividends to me as chief, to the employees, and also to the community,” said Hunter.
He’s also proud of the 25 citizen volunteers that contributed more than 4,000 hours of service last year.
“These volunteers are tax paying citizens who volunteer in the office and also engage in community events. You will see them riding around town in specially marked Police Volunteer cars,” said Hunter.
“This program literally opens our doors to our citizens so that they can see who we are, what we do, and what we struggle with.”
He says he’s proud of the department he leaves behind, but knows that his successor will deal with the same staffing challenges he has faced over the past few years.
“Every department across the United States is understaffed. It’s a struggle to get people who want to be police officers. But you can’t afford to hire the wrong people. It’s better to be short-staffed and wait for the right fit,” said Hunter.
Town manager Hazen Blodgett says Matthews Police Capt. Roy Sisk will serve as interim chief until a permanent chief is named, probably in December.
Blodgett says Hunter will definitely be missed.
“Rob essentially built the department from the ground up. He’s been a true asset to the town. In department head meetings, he always had the biggest department, but was always interested about what was in the best interest of the town, not just the police,” said Blodgett.
“We’ve always had a strong team atmosphere because of Rob and what he brought to the meetings.”
Hunter says has no definite plans for retirement, but is interested in pursuing a service or mission oriented position. For now, at 58 years old, he’s young enough to embark on a second career if he desires, but experienced enough to be able to look back at the department he’s led for the past two and a half decades and consider it a job well done.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org