Lincolnton Police Lieutenant Matt Painter may have come from humble roots, working his family’s cattle farm as a child, but more than 20 years in the criminal justice field has molded him into a well-respected public servant and community leader.
The seasoned supervisor recently completed a year-long Management Development Program with the North Carolina Department of Justice.
In addition to 24 hours of community service, which he acquired through volunteer work with church youth groups, Boy Scout events and programs with the Maiden Recreational Center, among other efforts, he said, the city cop fulfilled 500 hours of course work, spending one week a month with 19 other officers in the program, in classes held at NCDOJ campuses in Salemburg and Edneyville.
With a central focus on leadership styles, the program included additional material on budgeting, legal issues for administration, personnel management, media relations and critical incident command.
Out of 85 applicants, Painter was only one of 20 police supervisors picked to attend this year’s program.
He said his class, which graduated Nov. 22, was the 25th group to attend the specialized training.
At the program’s conclusion, each student was required to write a 30-page research paper on a topic of his choosing, followed by a 45-minute presentation in front of academy officials.
Painter presented information and statistics on school safety, particularly school shootings.
As head of his agency’s school resource officer program and the department’s community liaison, he said he felt drawn toward the topic.
Each student’s paper has since been published and can be reviewed at the NCDOJ library, Painter noted.
Perhaps more grueling than the actual course load itself was the interview process.
In addition to submitting an application and answering 11 pages of open-ended field-related questions, Painter had to complete a face-to-face interview with NCDOJ officials and write an essay on a surprise topic.
Each week at one of the campuses, he also endured early-morning physical training work, which prepared the group for the program’s two timed, long-distance runs at the end of the year.
Painter not only endured a one-mile mountain run but also 5- and 10-mile treks across the hilly terrain.
He claimed his purpose for working through the rigorous workout routines and study material was to not only better himself but also apply his new-found knowledge with co-workers.
“To better shape my career,” he said, “and help the P.D.”
More specifically, Painter desires to utilize his training to transition from management-style supervising to a more proactive leadership role.
“Anyone can manage,” he noted, “but we need to grow leaders in the organization.”
He also wants to lead by example, not by handing down orders and commands.
“Sometimes you have to be back with your guys,” he said, “not out in front and give them the opportunity and tools they need to (also) lead.”
With regard to program expenses, both the NCDOJ and the Lincolnton Police Department covered the costs.
The local agency provided for Painter’s cost of meals and travel.
Following graduation from Pitt Community College’s police academy in Kinston, which he attended after completing an undergraduate degree in business education from East Carolina University, Painter worked four years for the Kinston Police Department.
During half his time with KPD, he carried out detective and crime scene investigation work but later moved to the Hickory Police Department, he said, where he served for a little over a year.
Following a short break from policing to fill a higher-paying position with Goodyear Auto Service, he returned to the criminal justice field in 1997, getting hired part-time with Lincolnton.
Less than four years later, he stepped up to a full-time position.
For a decade of his time with the local agency, Painter held a detective sergeant title.
It wasn’t until 2011 that he was promoted to his current rank and transferred roles, taking over the Community Services Division.
While some officers view their policing position as a job, Painter considers the career to be a lifestyle and product of his heart’s true passion.
“Law enforcement is not really a job,” he said. “It’s more of who you are. It’s a piece of you and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you can help others — that even the smallest of things can make a difference in someone’s life.”
While police work is his day job, Painter also coaches his high-school-aged sons’ sports teams and fills referee positions for recreational football, baseball and softball leagues in multiple counties.
He and wife Andrea, who reside in Maiden, also have a daughter, who has graduated from college.
Currently in his 21st year as an officer, Painter continues to care for people — particularly those targeted by criminals.
He revealed how his main focus over the years has been remembering crime’s victims, not the suspects who targeted them.