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Matt Christenson named police chief at MSP Airport

APD Police Chief Matt ChristensonMatt Christenson, a 29-year veteran of the MSP Airport (MSP) police force, has been promoted to police chief following an extensive national search and competitive hiring process.

“Chief Christenson has tremendous knowledge of the entire policing operation at MSP, everything from anti-terrorism efforts to patrol, investigations, traffic control, community outreach and records administration,” said Mike Everson, director of public safety for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “He is a proven leader and has developed strong relationships and trust both within the department and throughout the MSP Airport community.”

Christenson holds a master’s degree in public and non-profit administration from Metropolitan State University, a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Bethel University and an associates’ degree in law enforcement from North Hennepin Community College

We spoke with Christenson on 9/11 – a day that dramatically changed airport security around the world – about his new job leading the department during another challenging time in airport history.

1. Can you tell us a little about your background? You've been with the MAC a long time?
I started at MSP Airport almost straight out of high school. I worked as a community service officer – what we now call traffic control agents – alongside Mike (Everson, now director of Public Safety). The MAC helped pay for some of my schooling to finish off my two-year degree and helped pay for my skills course at Alexandria Technical College. Over the course of my career, I have been a patrol officer, investigator, sergeant, lieutenant, commander, and deputy chief. I have had many opportunities during my time which included building our tactical team, leading multi- jurisdictional teams, and representing the MAC with the overall security details during Super Bowl LII and the Final Four, to name a few. People asked if I had a plan to become a lieutenant, commander, deputy chief and now chief. And the answer is no. I just worked to do the best job I could to improve what I was responsible for and to influence our department to become better.

2. Did you always want to become a police officer? What drew you to the profession?
No, I either wanted to go into medicine - I really had an interest in emergency medicine or be an airplane pilot. In high school I went through its emergency medical program and had a job as a lifeguard. I liked the medical side and being able to help people.  Then I had an opportunity to ride along with my uncle who was a deputy with the Stearns County Sheriff's Department. I ended up driving a suicide victim's car back to his family's house. It was a small thing, but it made a huge difference for the family and I realized that I really like to be able to help people through difficult times. With law enforcement, that's what you do most of the time.

3. Why did you choose the Airport Police Department over St. Paul, Minneapolis or some other jurisdiction?
My mom was taking classes at Metropolitan State to get a degree in long-term care administration and she had a course with one of our lieutenants at the APD, Marilyn Mortensen. My mom mentioned that I was going to school for law enforcement and Marilyn said, 'We're always looking for good community service officers, have him apply.' I did – and the rest is history.   

4. What makes the MAC and MSP Airport such an interesting place to work?
Few people realize how interconnected airports are. It's great that we're having this conversation on the 19th anniversary of 9/11 because 9/11 was a paradigm shift in our entire world and really changed the way we looked at airports, how we police airports and how we safeguard them. You quickly realize that an issue at one airport can affect many airports. I enjoy working with the diversity of people who come through the airport as well as those who work here. I generally walk the terminal a few times a week and talk with employees about what's going on. There is something about this place that gets into your blood and after all these years for me it is home.

5. Are there any changes you would like to see at the APD?
The financial impact COVID has had on our airport and the MAC requires that we continue to look for ways to tighten the belt. We have several open positions that will have an effect on the department. So, we're making adjustments on how we operate to get our work done. That said, we are working to prepare our officers to grow their leadership roles so in the future when opportunities become available, they are ready.

6. Can you tell us a little about your personal life? What do you like to do when you're not at work?
Family's always been important. In fact, my mom and dad still host a Sunday dinner every week. I enjoy the outdoors and projects around the house. I also enjoy working on classic 1960s-era Mustangs with my brothers – we've owned six of them. I have two daughters, Paige, who lives with her husband (Elliott) in Wales, and Kyla who is a college freshman in Wisconsin. So, my wife Sarah and I are working on adjusting to being "empty nesters."

7. I also noticed that you do some volunteer work?
Yes, I worked as a youth mentor for Hope 4 Youth at its Anoka Drop-In Center. It provides services for youth and young adults who are homeless. We help them fill out job applications, get food or clothes, do their laundry and/or connect them with a social worker. We do the best we can to help kids out a little bit to give them a step up – first to make sure that they have a safe place to stay and then to help them find work. These kids do not know my background – they just know me as Matt. Hearing the stories that led them to become homeless just tears at you. I also served on the council of our church and was the congregation president for a term.

8. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
This is a historically challenging time for all of us for many reasons and I look forward to better days ahead. That said, I am looking forward to building on the excellent reputation our department has. I know the support our department has from everyone in the MAC, around MSP, and from our commissioners means a lot to each of us, and I am excited about the direction we are going.