By Jacob Fitzgerald and Austin Lammers
Officer Matt Hower of the Rapid City Police Department has been an officer for 15 years, and after eight years of being a liaison officer, this may be his last at Central High School. Officer Hower plans to test to be a sergeant or move into the RCPD’s K-9 unit, working on investigations.
Officer Hower began his career as a policeman at the George S. Mickelson Criminal Justice Center in Pierre, SD, where he participated in a 13-week program to earn his South Dakota Law Enforcement Officer certification, the first step to becoming an officer. “It’s very hard, very stressful,” Hower said. “But it opened up a world that I didn’t even know existed. I had an instructor who wanted us to grow into exceptional officers, and as a result, he didn’t take it easy on us. Officers not only study your background since childhood, they also watch your every move while you’re being trained. After intensive, energy-draining days, I would sleep for 12 hours at a time.”
Officer Hower graduated from the academy, passed the 18-week Police Officer Field Training Program, and began permanent shift assignments at the age of 21.
All of us have heard about frequent events of school violence, particularly recently. In fact, there have been 45 American school shootings in 2015 alone. “We take school violence very seriously,” Officer Hower says. “It’s sad. Officer [Tim] Doyle and I stress to make sure the students and staff treat it as a real deal.” When it comes to juveniles, including ones with a lacking home life, he tries his best to help them. I try to maintain a good word with people who are upset with myself and others.”
When Officer Hower is on duty, his main concern is staying safe in bad situations. “It’s not an easy time to be in law enforcement,” he says. “Many people have false feelings towards officers, so you must always be alert.” Going back to the Lacrosse St. shooting in Rapid City almost four years ago serves as a prime example of the danger of being an officer. The summer of 2012, three RCPD officers were shot in front of a church after a routine stop. One officer, our other liaison, Officer Doyle, survived after sustaining injuries. The other two did not. “I think about it almost every day. I’m a sniper on the SWAT team and when people are getting gunned down, it makes me physically sick. We have families we want to go home to at the end of the day, just like anyone else.”
Officer Hower talked about the biggest things to remember on the job. “Wearing the badge and a gun comes with a lot of responsibility. You can’t think you’re better than anyone else because of that. A lot of authority is given with this job, and you can’t abuse it. You have to stay humble.”
Officer Hower is also a normal human, just like the rest of us. He enjoys playing hockey, spending time outdoors, and hiking in the hills. He his involved with his church and stays busy with his kids.
Matt Hower has enjoyed being in law enforcement so far and will look forward to working with the investigations unit for years to come, as he does not plan to retire from the force until he is in his 50’s. “As a police officer, I have the luxury of being outside and meeting with many people in the community. I enjoy talking and learning about others and what I can do to help their neighborhood or business be a safer place. As a senior officer within the department, I also enjoy being a mentor and training officer to rookies. As a liaison, I really enjoy working with the students and staff to problem solve and build relationships.”
Of course, the job comes with particular perks as well. “I also really like driving fast police cars and shooting guns.”