Q&A with Captain Matt Herterick
March 7, 2018


Lee County Sheriff's Office Captain Matt Herterick is the new leader of the West District, which includes San Carlos Island and Fort Myers Beach.

Besides law enforcement, Herterick served in the Army National Guard from 1996 to 2001. He's been in Lee County since 1996, is recently married and expecting his first child this summer. He coaches Little League Baseball.

Captain Rob Casale stepped in to fill the position after Matt Powell retired, but was then reassigned to a different division.

Herterick, 41, has been working in Pine Island, so he's familiar with the island mentality and the unique needs of coastal communities.

The Observer sat down with Herterick to discuss his new role.

Tell us about your background with the Sheriff's Office.

I started with the Sheriff's Office in 1999. I'm originally from Rhode Island. I've had the opportunity to work in various parts of the agency. I started in patrol, I was a school resource officer (SRO), I was a detective in the sexual offender unit. Then I went to sex crimes investigations for approximately five years. Then, I was promoted to lieutenant and was moved out to what's called our Gulf district, that's Pine Island, Boca Grande, Captiva, St. James City, Bokeelia. I was promoted to Captain out there. It's a quaint area, very similar to Fort Myers Beach. Lots of businesses, lots of tourism.

Why did you pursue a career in law enforcement?

When I was younger, I went to an EMT school and I was working at a hospital on the weekends. I was also worked at a bank. I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with my life.

I was a teller at a bank, and it got robbed. I was still in high school, a senior.

There was this little Italian lady would come in twice a month, she was probably in her 80s. She would come up to the counter and we would talk. I just remember looking down to deal with her transaction and I looked up, and this guy had his hand around her neck and pointed a gun right at my face. I remember down the barrel of the gun and seeing the bullet in the chamber. At that point in time I didn't know what it was. I was never exposed to that kind of stuff. It probably only took a minute or two, but it seemed like he was in that building for a whole hour. The next four or five hours was down at the police station, giving statements. That was my first overall exposure to law enforcement.

I learned a lot about myself at that point. In law enforcement we talk a lot about a fight or flight concept. There are people who turn around and run away, and there are people that stand up. And that day, I was one of the people who stood up. It was hard for me to realize at that point because I was young. I didn't know. You don't know how you're going to react until you're put in that situation. I knew public service was what I wanted to do, and then my experience with law enforcement throughout that whole process, I really learned that's what I wanted to do when I was older.

That sealed the deal for me.

Being in the sex crimes division must be an intense job. What made you want to be in that area of law enforcement?

I believe there are people that don't have voices, and the most memorable part of my career so far has been working in sex crimes investigations. That was here in Lee County. Bringing a voice to those kids who didn't have one was an indescribable feeling. But those cases, they weigh on you.

I'm an advocate for kids. I come from a big family, I've always been the older brother figure. As I grew up and created my own path through life, I realized that when kids have a mentor, when they have someone to look up to who's positive, they tend to make better decisions, even when it's hard and they're by themselves, they tend to choose the right path more than not. I loved working with the public and the clich of helping people.

What happened in Parkland is fresh in everyone's mind. You were a SRO. Why is a community policing mentality important with children?

Any time that a law enforcement officer, when you're wearing that uniform and you have a positive interaction with a child, that goes above and beyond. As a resource officer, I was at Lehigh Acres Middle School. I did two school years out there. I remember coming in on a Monday morning and I would have kids lined up outside my door to tell me what they did over the weekend.

It took a little while to build that relationship and that trust with them. But once they knew they could trust you, they'd tell you everything. Being that mentor, walking through the lunch room when they were having lunch or sitting with them, talking about school, it gave them the sense of 'cops aren't bad.' They're there to protect us and help us when you need them.

Several years down the line, I'm out on patrol. I was chasing a guy through the woods, he'd just robbed somebody. I'm in the back of a house at night, there are people on the back lanai, and I hear this voice: "Deputy Matt! Deputy Matt!"

I didn't recognize this person but they recognized me. After everything was safe and settled down, I came back. One of those now-adults was one of the kids that was in the school at the time. First, it made me realize I'm getting old, but after that, it's that relationship that you build.

We meet so many people on a daily basis. Most people deal with law enforcement a half-dozen times in their life, hopefully. Having that solid impact on that person, who's now an adult, it's huge.

What's your strategy for taking care of Fort Myers Beach?

I've been going out, meeting some of the local business owners and getting to know the people in the community. That's what it's all about, I believe in partnerships. In order for us to do our job, we have to have good, solid partnerships in the community. Lieutenant Jim Lalor was here, has been in this district for a very long time, so he's been able to help me go out and make the connections.

I was very active out on Pine Island, with the Chamber and a lot of the events they have out there. When people see your face all the time in these events... Obviously, my last name is very difficult to pronounce, so I was always Captain Matt, you know, 'Hey Captain Matt, what's up?' Just having that five or 10 minutes to interact with the citizens pays dividends.

Being a district captain, the job is the same, but the community varies from location to location. Having that experience working out in the Gulf district and dealing with the small town feel, more of a community policing type environment, I think it's going to be an easy fit.

Many things that concern Fort Myers Beach are more civil issues than criminal in nature. How do you deal with that?

Being taken care of, and follow up, is huge. When people contact the Sheriff's Office we take it very seriously, no matter what the issue is, and we try to follow up. We may not be able to fix the problem in a minute, but letting that person know that we've acknowledged it, we have it, we're working on it, and provide them follow up, that's served us very well in dealing with the public.

Here's how I look at it: I call them quality of life issues. Are there always simple solutions, no. However, there are ways we can go down and if we have previously-established relationships, we can talk to these folks and say 'I understand you've got a job to do, is there any way you could do this a little later, or move it 10 feet down the street?' It's not ruling with an iron fist, it's working in collaboration with our partners to get things fixed. We've been successful even with a few that we've dealt with since I've been here. There were some noise complaints, deliveries too early in the morning, those types of things. Just being a calming voice, listening to their frustrations. Although it may not be an emergency for us, but for them, it is. As long as they know that their issue is the most important thing you're going to do today, they're going to understand if you come back and say I can't fix this 100 percent, but here's what I can do for you. Being straight forward and transparent is huge.


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