ST. PETER — St. Peter’s next police chief is set to take the helm in July with a goal to grow relationships and trust between the department and the community.
The City Council recently appointed longtime St. Peter Police Department detective Matt Grochow to replace former chief Matt Peters, who retired in May after more than 22 years in the role. Grochow was one of five candidates, three of them internal, considered for the position.
After growing up in St. Peter and being with the police department since 1991, Grochow said it’ll be an honor to be the police chief in the city he loves.
“It was pure excitement,” he said of the council appointment. “There were a lot of quality candidates that were vying for the same position. It was humbling to know that I was chosen.”
Now 49 years old, Grochow’s connections to the department date as far back as when he was still in school in 1989. He participated in the police explorer program at the time before volunteering for the police reserves.
From there, his roles over the years included work as a dispatcher, community service officer, patrol officer, and most recently, detective work for the last 13 years.
He and the other four candidates went through public and private meet and greets along with interviews as part of the consideration process. Groups including the local ministerial association, mosque leaders, other law enforcement agency officials, attorneys and representatives from the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center were involved in the process before City Administrator Todd Prafke made a recommendation to council members.
Grochow will earn a salary of $108,500 when he begins the job. His council appointment is contingent upon successfully passing psychological and physical examinations.
The hiring process, Grochow said, was critical in connecting him to groups he’ll be working with as police chief. He noted a discussion with a member of the city’s Somali-American community led to plans for a future meeting about how to build trust in the police department.
“We don’t want anyone to be fearful of coming in and talking to us,” he said. “We want to be very welcoming, having those goals of being involved in certain groups within the community is going to make us a stronger department.”
Community feedback contributed to Grochow being chosen for the role, Prafke said. He thanked residents for being so engaged in the hiring process.
“That type of process provides the greatest opportunity to find a candidate that’s likely to be most successful,” he said.
The choice came down to who was the best fit for a job where adaptability to change is increasingly needed, he added.
“Any number of those five we interviewed we believe would do an excellent job,” he said. “At that point, it’s about fit, changes in law enforcement overall and adaptability to the changes that continue to happen.”
Calls for police reform ramped up last year following former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd. Activists there and in cities across the country called for more accountability in policing, with some advocating for departments to be defunded and replaced.
Debates about the extent of needed reforms and what reforms might be feasible are ongoing in Minnesota and elsewhere.
In St. Peter, Grochow said the police department needs to be open to change, which starts with listening. Expanding on the department’s community-oriented policing will be a key part of the effort.
“There’s been a lot of things pointed out that haven’t worked well in law enforcement,” he said. “We have to be ready to change, but more importantly we have to be ready to listen.”
He described building a rapport with people and being an active listener among his strengths.
“We need to show empathy and sympathy for people, especially victims of crimes,” he said. “We need to build that trust with them.”
While he thinks support for the police department is generally strong in St. Peter already, he also thinks there’s room for improvement. He sees strong responses when the department puts out calls for help on Facebook, for instance, but hopes to build on that trust so more groups feel comfortable coming forward.
The lifelong St. Peter resident said he looks forward to serving as a liaison between the department and the community when he steps in as police chief in the coming weeks.
“I love this community,” he said. “There have been opportunities to potentially leave the community, but I just couldn’t. There’s too much connection and too much bond; I really enjoy the residents.”