Rensselaer’s newly sworn-in Police Chief, Matt Anderson, has spent almost two decades with the RPD, in a career guided by inspiration, ambition to serve his community and a few twists of fate along the way. He was sworn in for his new post by Mayor Stephen Wood on Dec. 27, 2017 and officially took over the position on New Year’s Day, succeeding former chief Jeff Phillips.
Anderson was born and raised in the same city he has spent so many years protecting. He graduated from Rensselaer Central High School in 1991. And though his higher education took him elsewhere, he didn’t stay away for very long.
“With the exception of going to Indiana State for four years, I’ve been here my whole life,” he said.
Though he wasn’t sure about what career he would pursue in high school, the seeds of an interest in law enforcement had already been planted in his childhood. During those days, his family was close with that of Indiana State Trooper Michael Greene of Boone County.
“I knew him some as a kid,” Anderson remembered. “He moved away from here. My parents knew him and his wife.”
Greene, a veteran of the Indiana National Guard, was tragically killed in 1993, when he stopped to investigate a car parked on the side of Interstate 65, near Indianapolis. Along with the car, he came across two men.
“And I think one of them had a warrant for him or something like that and ended up shooting him,” Anderson said.
A report on the website findagrave.com noted the attention his murder received by others who valued and respected his life and career.
“Due to his reputation and popularity, a large contingent of uniformed public servants, including police, fire fighters and members of the military, from throughout the country came to pay their respects at his funeral,” the report read. Today, Rensselaer’s nearby Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 189 is named after him.
But Anderson also remembers a simple act of kindness from Greene when they were visiting together, which would have a large impact on him as a young boy.
“I still remember the day he showed me inside of his squad car, and I sat in there, thought it was really neat and everything,” Anderson said, “and just kind of got the bug at that time, I suppose.”
Anderson said Greene was the very reason he decided to go into law enforcement. He went on to graduate from Indiana State University in 1995, the same university Greene himself attended, with a degree in criminology.
After graduating, Anderson planned to stay down in Terre Haute. He was applying at different places. Then fate intervened, when his high school wrestling coach died of a heat attack. He was asked to come back and help out with the wrestling program. He came back and has been an assistant wrestling coach at the high school ever since college.
Around this time, he also began working for the Rensselaer Parks Department. Duties for the department included maintenance around town. He also spent some years driving a truck for Beaver News, which was then located where the eMbers Venue now is on Washington Street.
“So, if it wasn’t for my high school wrestling coach passing away, I probably wouldn’t even be back here,” he said. “But I got brought back here to help take over the wrestling program. So I’ve been here ever since.”
He did note that he is only an assistant coach. But the job does still keep him busy nevertheless.
“I’m in there every day unless something keeps me away for work,” he said.
Anderson said he has been there after school for a couple of hours everyday and then traveling to tournaments on the weekends.
At first he wasn’t sure if he would stay in Rensselaer. But his wife, Shannon Anderson, soon came to a decision. The two of them had grown up together, and she now teaches at Van Rensselaer Elementary School in addition being a published children’s author.
“We were both looking for jobs, and we figured whoever landed one first that’s where we’d stay at,” he said. “And she got hired on here, so…we stayed here.”
Then, in 1998, Anderson got the opportunity to become a dispatcher for the RPD.
“And I was a dispatcher for about nine months,” he said. “And then an opening came up to be an officer, so I applied and got the job.”
He said he hasn’t forgotten just how difficult work as a dispatcher is.
“And it’s a lot more difficult now than what it was back when I started,” he said. “But it was a good way to get experience, get my foot in the door. It taught me how to talk to people, gather details, stuff like that. But that is a very difficult job.”
After applying for the department, he then spent 12 weeks at Plainfield Police Academy and started out at the RPD as a third class patrolman. He made his way up the ranks from there, until recently spending a year as the department’s lieutenant under Philips. In all this time, he said some things haven’t changed.
“I still have fun coming into work,” he said. “So I look forward to coming in, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I get along well with all the people here, work well with the people at the county.”
During his career, he has received several commendations. Among these, he mainly cited ones given for his drug-related cases.
“I’ve handled drug investigations for the last several years,” he said, “so most of my letters of commendation have come from drug investigations and cases I made.”
He said the subject of him becoming the next chief had been brought up before. Anderson and another officer apparently both knew it may come down to a choice between them.
“The mayor wanted to hire from within if at all possible,” Anderson said. “So we knew it was going to be somebody from here within. And I had known that I was probably going to be taken back for an interview at some point in time. It wasn’t unexpected that I was asked to do it.”
He was interviewed by Phillips and Wood in November. The mayor offered him the job a couple of weeks afterwards.
Anderson said his goals for the department are to keep up the good work of his predecessor while being ready for needed changes.
“I would like to just keep moving it forward,” he said, “pick up where Chief Phillips left off.”
He used the football analogy of “moving the ball forward one yard at a time.”
“I’m a strong believer if things aren't broke, you don’t fix ‘em,” he said. “But if there’s a way to do something more efficiently, then we’ll adapt when it comes to that.”