Beaufort police chief takes stock of first year in office and what lies ahead

Matt Clancy's rise to the top of the Beaufort Police Department started in 1992 with a document familiar to many in the Beaufort area -- an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps.

Clancy, a Long Island, N.Y., native and graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, left the Corps as a captain after a three-year tour at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and knew he wanted to go into law enforcement.

"When I was a kid, I said I wanted to do two things -- join the military and go into law enforcement," Clancy said. "I guess I was lucky because I got to do both."

He began in February 1993 as a patrolman with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. Sixteen years later, the 46-year-old former Marine infantry officer was sworn in as the city's 24th police chief.

"I can't say that when we came to Beaufort in 1989 I expected or even thought that this was going to happen," Clancy said.

Rising to the top

Clancy moved to the city police force in 1997.

In three years he moved from patrolman to criminal investigator to head of the investigative division to deputy chief.

Clancy worked for eight years under Jeff Dowling, until election night 2008 when Clancy found out he'd be getting an unexpected promotion.

Dowling announced his retirement that night after more than 30 years with the department. Sheriff P.J. Tanner hired Dowling in December 2008 to manage the agency's bid to attain national accreditation.

Dowling's departure brought mixed emotions for Clancy.

"On one hand, I was sad because Jeff was such a fixture within this department and had been such a great leader for so long," Clancy said, "but on the other hand, I knew that until they hired someone permanently, it was going to be on me. I wasn't sitting here going, 'Oh, one day I'm going to be chief,' but I knew that when that opportunity came up, that I was ready for it and that I was going to do the job I was assigned."

Clancy was hired permanently four months later.

A roller coaster year

Clancy's first year at the helm of the department was marked with ups and downs.

The department moved from a former doctor's office on Allison Road to a new $8 million headquarters on Boundary Street. Meanwhile, several senior members retired, including Dowling and senior investigator David Ott, and city officials debated combining the police and fire departments into a single department of public safety.

Through the tumult, Clancy said he's tried to keep in mind a quote by essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson that sits on a bookshelf in his office: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."

"There's so much that happens that we can't change and we can't control, but we can control how we do our jobs and how we handle ourselves every day," Clancy said. "I'm proud of the way we've responded to this unusual year. It's been a big challenge to lose some of our more experienced people, but the men and women under them have stepped up and made it work."

Dowling said his former understudy proved to be right for the job.

"When I think of Matt Clancy, the first word that comes to mind is integrity," Dowling said. "He was definitely the right pick, and I know he's well respected by the employees of that department. They'll follow him into battle."

New challenges

This year, four officers and two police cruisers will be added to the 40-employee department, all funded by a federal grant, Clancy said.

Clancy's primary goal for the year is to strengthen the relationship between the department and the community.

"I want the public to know that our men and women are out there every day," Clancy said. "It's a mesh. They do their part and we do our part and everyone's safer. It's a community effort."

Another effort Clancy intends to make is more personal.

"I used to be big into physical fitness, but I've kind of slid back in the past year," Clancy said, with a grin. "I used to be one of the first people at the gym, but that hasn't been the case lately. I'm definitely hoping to get back into lifting weights. It's my New Year's resolution."