Chief Clark Pennington: Year One Leading the Matthews Police

Clark A. Pennington began his job on January 2, 2018 as the new Chief of the Matthews Police Department, replacing retired Chief Rob Hunter. Born in Delaware and raised in Las Vegas, Chief Pennington was taught the “Do unto others” doctrine early in his childhood. That philosophy continues guide his decision-making and doctrine of leadership.

During his previous 25 years of law enforcement service - 20 years of which included rising through the ranks at the Frederick, MD police department -  Pennington graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, with a degree in Criminal Justice (2010) and went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Management from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD (2012). Pennington was also an adjunct Criminal Justice Professor at Hood College, Frederick Community College, and Mount Saint Mary’s University.

He recently reflected back on his first year of service in Matthews:

chief a.jpg

You have such an outstanding and lengthy history both with the military and with public service?  Has this always been a love and a passion?

I have always been drawn to public service and a profession in law enforcement.  I am the fourth generation in my family who has served in some form of the profession.  My great grandfather, grandfather, and father all served as constables in Pennsylvania.

From very early on, I recognized I liked being the one that people turned to for help.  Probably because I enjoyed providing some service to those that were struggling or felt victimized.  I do not like to see others being taken advantage of and want to do my part to help where I can.

When I graduated from high school, I did not feel college was right for me at that time.  I also knew that staying in Vegas and working until I was 21 years old and eligible for a career in law enforcement, was not productive or the best choice.  I joined the US Army to gain additional life experience and show a commitment to something bigger than me. I knew early on through examples set for me by family and friends in the profession that sacrifice and commitment was something that is expected in my chosen career path.  

In 1998, I was hired by the Frederick Police Department in Frederick, MD.  Over the next 20 years, I was extremely blessed to have competent and qualified leaders above me.  Many of those leaders pushed me further than I ever expected to go.

You state that your promotion and employment as Police Chief of Matthews is the culmination of your career. Can you say more about this?

I have always wanted to serve and learn from those in leadership positions.  In my 26+ years in the law enforcement profession, I have been fortunate enough to serve under some very capable and confident men and women.  I learned early on that we are able to take something away from each person we are afforded the opportunity to work with.

Being appointed as the Chief is a culmination of a career where I have learned from successful encounters and some not so successful.  The opportunity to serve as Chief came at a point…that I felt I could apply those important lessons learned to help develop other leaders and enrich the lives of individuals to help build a better organization and create a caring environment.

What hopes did you have for the job?

My hopes for the job are that I can be productive as the Chief and help to maintain, and even grow (to) incorporate technology to enhance the services provided to our residents, visitors, and business owners.  I hope to continue building an organization of leaders who have a service heart, ensuring our agency is serving and working with businesses, residents, and nonprofit organizations to enhance our community both financially and in areas of improving our quality of life.  

Image via    Town of Matthews
Matthews is a very progressive community and places high demands on its police department. Learning the expectations of the residents and businesses is important to ensure we are meeting those and enhancing the quality of life

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I don’t think the challenges in Matthews are unique to Matthews.  Crime reduction and reducing the fear of crime is always at the forefront of a chief’s desires…Any time a new leader steps into an agency he/she is challenged with learning the culture of the agency and community you are entering.  Matthews is a very progressive community and places high demands on its police department. Learning the expectations of the residents and businesses is important to ensure we are meeting those and enhancing the quality of life. Any changes made in the agency must enhance the services provided without the reducing services expected or letting the community down on their expectations is important.

What are some of your accomplishments so far?

Met one on one with each and every employee of the agency; undertook a reorganization and distribution of workload among division commanders; began a comprehensive review of all policies and assigning each policy to a division commander for review and updating.  (We reviewed and/or made changes to our Use of Force Policy, Internal Affairs Policy, and Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment Policy.) Conducted a 100% inventory and accountability review of evidence and seized property accounting for all items seized or taken into custody by the agency. Opened lines of communication between divisions and incorporated crime analysis into our deployment strategies, allowing us to target areas of the town that are experiencing the highest impact of crime or quality of life issues. Entered into a partnership with Carmel Christian School to hire and train a School Resource Officer; promoted two new sergeants. Began a more transparent use of social media to communicate with our public on crime issues, and arrests.

What are some of your shorter and longer goals?

One short-term goal is to train each member of the agency on Problem Oriented Policing and Intelligence led policing strategies.  The ultimate goal is to use each and every employee as a mini crime-analyst and use problem-solving strategies to provide long term solutions to identified community issues.  

What else would you like people to know about you?

In my off time I enjoy spending time with my three sons (Ethan, who is 16, and twins, Brady and Collin, who are 13).  We like to hunt, fish, boat and travel. I enjoy riding my motorcycle and clearing my head on a long ride.

Matthews has undergone some rapid changes in recent years and there will be many more in the years to come.  In light of this, how do you see your role?

I think instituting community and problem-solving policing and intelligence-led policing philosophies into the department will enhance the services we already provide and elevate our abilities to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in our community.