Petal swears in Matthew Hiatt as new police chief

By HASKEL BURNS,

Surrounded by friends and family – including daughter Jenna, wife Tenia and son Jacob – Matthew Hiatt was sworn in Thursday at Petal Civic Center as the Petal Police Department’s first new chief in almost 10 years.

Mayor Hal Marx conducted the swearing-in ceremony for Hiatt, who previously served as the department’s assistant chief, before Hiatt’s family pinned on his new badges.

“I’m humbled, really,” said Hiatt, who was appointed by the Petal Board of Aldermen in November. “This is a huge honor, for me to be given the opportunity to serve this great department and this great city, so I look forward to the future.

“This is always been an aspiration that I’ve had, so it’s been something that I’ve wanted to accomplish. I set that goal out probably 19 years ago after I’d been with the city for about a year, when I just realized I wanted to be a leader here, and God’s blessed me with a position where I can hopefully achieve that.”

Hiatt takes over for former chief Leonard Fuller, who served as chief since 2009 and officially retired Jan. 1.

“(Petal) is just home,” Hiatt said. “I’ve had my entire law enforcement career with this department, so I just feel loyal to it, and the city of Petal has always supported me and given me opportunities to succeed and thrive.

“Right now, I just want to go out there and get my feet wet, and just kind of keep things going in the direction that Chief Leonard Fuller has established. I learned a lot working under his command. There will be some changes to come, I’m sure, but we just want to continue moving in the positive direction that he was going in for a number of years.”

Hiatt started with the Petal Police Department in 1997 as a reserve officer, then transitioned to full-time in 1998 after graduating from the Harrison County Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was promoted to patrol sergeant in 1999, where he primarily pursued DIU violators. He received an award in 2008 from the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety for making 100 DUI arrests.

Hiatt instructed DUI law, protection and apprehension for five years at the Hattiesburg Police Academy and seven years at the Southern Regional Public Safety Institute.

He received Petal’s Officer of the Year Award in 2006 before being named as assistant chief in 2009. In 2011, Hiatt received an Appreciation Certificate from the 1st Army Training Academy for instruction DUI prevention, and has earned Master Instructor status certification in the areas of Use of Force Instructor, Motor Vehicle Stops Instructor, Complete Traffic Stops Instructor, Child Restraint Safety Instructor, Patrol Tactics Instructor and TASER Instructor.

“He was the natural choice for me to name as our next chief of police, because to me, he embodies what the Petal Police Department is all about,” Marx said. “He’s loyal to the city of Petal, he’s been here for about 20 years, he knows the city and knows the people, and he knows the officers in the department.

“So after working with him all these years, when the time came to choose a new police chief, he was an easy choice, and I’m glad to be here today to do this.”

Hiatt’s successor as assistant chief has not yet been chosen, but officials hope to make that announcement in the near future.

Fuller, who served in the police force for about 30 years, said he didn’t have any plans set in stone for his retirement, but he felt that it was time to pursue other options.

“I don’t have anything major planned,” he said in a previous story. “I’m going to cut grass, get a part-time job doing something and stay busy.

“I love the outdoors, so I do a lot of mountain bike riding. We have some trails here in Petal, and I like to go out and help work on them, and I’ll do some fishing down there on the Coast. I grew up down in Gautier, and my parents are still there and doing well, so I spend a lot of time there.”

Before becoming chief in Petal, Fuller worked for 10 years in the Hattiesburg Police Department and served as a state officer in the Florida Park Service. He attended the University of Southern Mississippi, where he graduated with a degree in Parks and Recreation.

“I’ve got two kids in college, so I’m just going to enjoy spending some time with the family,” Fuller said. “As a police officer, I’ve missed a lot of birthday parties, a lot of dance recitals and band competitions.