GARLAND — After commissioners became determined to build a police department, one of the first actions was the purchase of a patrol car. But they had no one to drive it. That changed on Tuesday night.
The Town of Garland recently announced that Ronald Matthews will become the new police chief to lead law enforcement in the area.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a challenge. Anybody who wouldn’t think it would be is fooling themselves, I think. It gives me the opportunity to do something that no one else has — build a department from the ground up and cater it to the community, instead of saying this is the way it’s been done and the way it’s going to be done.”
Challenges are something he enjoys facing.
“I think that’s what motivates me the most,” he said about obstacles. “I try to do better every day and learn something every day.”
Matthews has close to 40 years of experience with several agencies. Some of the locations include Spring Lake Police Department and deputy duties in Bladen, Cumberland and Brunswick counties. He also served as the police chief of Maxton, a town located in Robeson and Scotland counties with more than 2,000 residents.
Matthews plans to be instrumental in setting up a police unit in town. Garland ran a department until June 30, 2008. It came to an end because of financial issues. Law enforcement duties were then turned over to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office. In 2016, the town ended the contract after more funding was requested by sheriff’s officials to provide coverage for the town. Following the town board’s decision to end services with the Sheriff’s Office, many residents were concerned about it, although deputies still provided emergency coverage for the town.
During his remarks, Matthews thanked the commissioners and the mayor for having the vision to build a police department. He said he is also looking forward to working with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and establishing a relationship with the community.
“They should never be afraid to come to us, talk to us and let us investigate what’s going on,” he said.
For Matthews, that involvement also includes working with younger people, especially with political matters involving police.
“I think right now with the situation in this country, with police supposedly being the bad guy, we got to put a normalcy to the face,” he said. “In other words, we put our pants on like everybody else. It’s just a different color and style of pants.
“We have families, we have likes and dislikes,” Matthews said. “We have goals no different than anybody else.”
In the beginning, Mayor Winifred Murphy said the town board had no idea how long it would take to find a chief or establish a department.
“We hoped it would happen soon than later,” said Murphy.
Bobby Kinlaw, former police chief of Elizabethtown, was hired to provide consultant services and assist with searching for a chief.
“This has been a long process and I had no idea it would take this long,” Kinlaw said. “When we first started, the commitment of this board and the mayor was to find the best possible candidate.”
While introducing Matthews to community members, Kinlaw said he was highly qualified for the position for his decades of service, which began in the late 1970s. The recommendation was approved unanimously by commissioners.
“He’s very knowledgeable, very thorough and very reputable,” Kinlaw said of Matthews. “I think you will be very pleased.”
In addition to finding a chief, Kinlaw said the steps in the thorough process involved forming a charter and completing other legal matters. Some of the resources involved the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations, N.C. Department of Justice and the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office. Several deputies from the Sheriff’s Office, as well as town residents, attended the meeting to welcome Matthews.
“I really feel honored to be here,” Matthews said to community members in a packed room. “When this process began and I first contacted the town and spoke to chief, it just seem like a fit for me.
“This is what I enjoy,” he said. “I enjoy getting out and talking to the people. I like walking the streets and getting to know everybody’s name and a little bit about you. It’s going to take me a while, because I remember faces, but I don’t get names right off the bat.”
Matthews believes Garland will have a productive police department and something the town will be proud of.
In the next few days, Matthews will work in an administrative capacity. An official swearing-in ceremony will take place in a couple of weeks, following final approval from state officials in Raleigh.
Matthews is married to wife Thelma. They’ve been together for 42 years with two children serving in law enforcement. His oldest son, Christopher Bryan Matthews, served with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. He died in the line of duty in 2005. Their youngest son serves with the Fayetteville Police Department.
The Charlotte native graduated from high school in Cumberland County and attended Methodist College for a little over two years. In addition to serving in several departments, he also trains other officers. Some of the specialties include teaching officers how to train, special firearms and CPR.
He also received service awards from Spring Lake Police Department and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.
“To me, those were just pieces of paper for doing what I was supposed to be doing,” he said.