Matt Haugen took his oath of office as Jackson County Sheriff on Monday, April 17.
Haugen began his career in law enforcement 15 years ago in Custer County as a deputy sheriff in the reserve program, on a volunteer basis following 9-11.
“Like several people, 9-11 was an awakening for me,” said Haugen, “I’ve always been fascinated with law enforcement, but I realized at times we all stand by from a distance and wonder ‘what can I do to help’ and I thought if I don’t, who will?”
It was from that thought that started Haugen to proceed with law enforcement.
“When I spoke to my wife, who is now deceased, about applying to the reserve program, I promised that it was just strictly a volunteer position, I wouldn’t be quitting my job or anything drastic,” Haugen laughed.
Haugen worked as a youth counselor in a correctional center for juveniles. He shared stories of working with youth at the center, where several spent months to years, and he worked with them during their time, some through graduation or through the transformation to adulthood when they could gain independent living.
During the six years as a reserve officer, Haugen’s commitment to law enforcement grew deeper within. It was this volunteer position that spurred an emotion inside that lead Haugen to apply for the full time deputy position that came available a few years later.
“Law enforcement allows you to intervene and help prior to a crisis and in some cases, even prevent it from happening,” he said. “Working with the youth, I felt, by joining law enforcement full time, I would be able to provide some positive building for the youth and hopefully be the difference before or during a bad situation.”
Haugen stated that working with people every day is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Although not every situation is easy, but being able to help is always satisfying. While in Custer County, Haugen was very active in the DARE program, in which he is a certified instructor, worked with child protection services for at-risk youth, and as an EMIT for the ambulance service.
As with any job, there are highs and lows. Haugen shared that one of his experiences on the job included the shooting at Custer State Park during the Sturgis Bike Rally with the Hells Angels, which he shared that was definitely a difficult time with five shooting victims, the manhunt, investigation and looking for evidence, the arrests and the trials.
“One day that I will never forget was when a call for help came in from a remote area that was hard to reach, but I was able to get there in my unit,” said Haugen, “I arrived well before the ambulance and performed CORP and helped save the patient. This was definitely one of the highlights in my career, but anytime I am able to help is a high point.”
Growing up in Minnesota, Haugen lived in North Dakota before moving to South Dakota. Leaving Custer County was not an easy decision.
“When I learned of the opportunity here in Jackson County, I gave it some thought, and before long, it was all I could think of,” Haugen said with a smile. “I’ve lived in Custer for 16 years and I have a lot of friends and memories there.”
A send-off celebration was held for Haugen, which he said was very humbling and overwhelming. He comes to Jackson County with the vision of being part of the community.
“I would really like for law enforcement to be part of the community and not just during a crisis, but in everyday life,” Haugen shared, “each community has its own specific needs and I’m here to learn what those are and try to meet them.”
Haugen shared his excitement of serving as sheriff, meeting new people, and enjoying the badlands.
“Once I started law enforcement, I was hooked,” Haugen said smiling, “and from that time forward, I’ve never looked back and I’m excited to make this my home.”