Though Officer Matthew Droge wanted to be a policeman since he was a young child, his first real experience with crime prevention came while working as part of a five-person loss prevention team at Arrowhead Towne Center in Glendale, Ariz.
There, Droge worked undercover to catch amateur shoplifters as well as those involved in organized retail crime.
“It was fascinating to me,” Droge said, “So much energy and time (put) into something so deceitful.”
The job confirmed his boyhood interest in law enforcement and paved the way for applying to the Riley County Police Department in 2010.
Now Droge works as the department’s public information officer and his involvement with the department’s Twitter account has earned him the nickname “Twitter Cop.”
But Droge’s career path was not always geared toward law enforcement.
Droge, who was born and raised in Manhattan, attended college in Glendale, where he studied digital media and video production. While he was in school, he opened his own company specializing in photography, videography and graphic design.
Through that work, he became a field producer for the pilot episode of a would-be reality series called, “Designer Family 90210,” which followed two married men while one worked as a modeling agent and photographer and the other managed his own store off of Rodeo Drive in California.
The pilot was not picked up, but the gig helped him land a job as a photographer at the Scottsdale, Ariz., office of a modeling agency used by the would-be reality star.
The job had its perks, including work trips to Mexico and New York, where Droge stayed in the Waldorf-Astoria while attending a huge modeling convention. It was Droge’s first visit to New York and he was a bit in awe—“I was just some dumb kid from Kansas,” he said.
But through the course of the job—Droge worked at the agency for about three years—he became an internationally published and award-winning photographer.
In 2007, Droge decided it was time to move on from the agency and he opened his own studio in Phoenix. He managed it for a year.
Because photography didn’t always result in 40-hour work weeks, Droge found creative ways to earn extra money, including taking the job on the loss prevention team and working as a street performer.
Droge, ever a fan of Charlie Chaplin, would perform a Chaplin-esque slapstick routine in city parks and outdoor malls, using the performances as a way to combat his shyness.
Nowadays, his past life as a performer and photographer are remembered in the photographs decorating his office.
Droge returned to Manhattan in 2008, where he set up a studio for photography and also worked at the high school, monitoring students who were assigned to in-school suspension—a position in which Droge basically tutored the students, he said. “I read Julius Caesar more than one time after vowing never to read it in high school,” he said.
While Droge enjoyed running his own studio, at the end of the day, he said, he didn’t feel like he was accomplishing anything important. So he decided to apply to become an RCPD patrol officer.
After an intensive interview process, Droge became a sworn officer in 2010. For his first two years at the department, he worked the midnight shift.
“Manhattan is a different place when the lights go out,” he said. “I’ve seen some horrible things, but I’ve also seen some really great things.”
On that shift, Droge often dealt with traffic violations such as DUIs following bar closures, drunk fights and helping bar revelers find their way home.
One of the scariest moments of his life came, when an intoxicated person pointed a rifle at him. Because the case is still pending, Droge can’t go into detail about the incident, but he said it was the first time he really thought he could have gotten killed.
“You’re shocked and surprised on one hand,” he said, but on the other hand, he added, all the police training and protocol for such situations whirled through his head and in the end, no one got hurt.
But police work has its more lighthearted moments, Droge said—one of which was when he got his most bizarre call to date.
Droge had been working on a report at the department when a call came in for an animal-at-large. He remembers turning to another officer and saying, “It’s too bad we never get any cool animals.” He assumed it was probably a dog or horse or maybe a cow, but when he checked the call screen on a computer, it turned out the animal was a zebra that had escaped a private residence and had been found in the garage of a homeowner. “That was one of the funniest things,” he said.
At the beginning of the year, Droge was made the public information officer. He has continued his involvement with the department’s Twitter account and said he hopes social media will be used to solve more cases.
His goal, he said, is to show the community how the police department really is.
“We’re not robotic agents of the state who just give out tickets,” he said.