SKOWHEGAN — After more than a quarter-century as a police officer, detective and undercover drug agent in central Maine, Kelly Hooper is leaving.

Hooper, 47, currently a detective with the Skowhegan Police Department, is taking a new job in adult probation and parole at the Montana Department of Corrections Region V offices in Kalispell. Her last day at work in Skowhegan is Jan. 6.

“I absolutely loved and have been blessed in my career in law enforcement from the day I started until the day I leave,” Hooper said during a recent interview at the police station. “I’ll miss all my friends here. It’s bittersweet to let go.”

Hooper worked for 15 years at the Fairfield Police Department beginning as a part-time officer in 1990 and rising to the rank of detective before coming to Skowhegan in 2005. In 2012 she was assigned to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, often working undercover while still a detective in Skowhegan.

Skowhegan Police Chief Don Bolduc, who has been in law enforcement for 28 years, said he, his staff and the entire community are going to miss Kelly Hooper and her approach to law enforcement.

“We’re going to have some very big shoes to fill with her position,” Bolduc said. “Having someone as an MDEA agent from our department is a very big step in being proactive in the drug activity and in dealing with that. She’s extremely good at what she does. She knows everybody and she’s an excellent communicator. Perfect for that position.”

Sgt. Joel Cummings, himself with more than three decades as a police officer, 27 of them in Skowhegan, agreed.

“We are going to miss Kelly; I am going to miss Kelly,” he said. “Since she came to this community, I have not seen an officer who was just beloved by the people in the town as Kelly. We could cite example after example of people coming to the police department just to look her up, just to say hi.

“She touches people, whether they’re a victim or whether they’re being arrested, in a way that defines humanity.”

Hooper grew up in Winslow, graduating from high school there in 1987. She worked for a while at Keyes Fibre, now Huhtamaki, before enrolling at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island to study fashion merchandising.

For a young woman who later would become a police detective, the world of fashion and retail didn’t seem to fit. She came home to Winlsow, where the police department sponsored her in a pre-service police academy. The Fairfield Police Department hired her part-time in 1990 at age 23. She was hired full-time in 1994 and promoted to detective in 1999.

She attended the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in the class of 1996. That class was a good one, Hooper said, noting that former Waterville Deputy Chief Chip Rumsey was a member, as was Kevin Lully, now a lieutenant with the Augusta Police Department; Bill Birch, a detective sergeant with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office; and Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison, who was her roommate during the 12-week academy course.

While in Fairfield, Hooper shared patrol duties beginning in 2002 with three other women: Shanna (Messer) Blodgett, who is still with the department; Amie (Trahan) Torrey, now with the Ellsworth Police Department; and Karen (Pomelow) Nightingale, who died two years ago in a motorcycle crash. She also worked with dispatcher Jeanne Kempers, who is still with the Fairfield Police Department.

Hooper was promoted to detective in Skowhegan in 2008. She has two children, Amanda, 21, and Thorn, 12, with whom she took eight months off to be a stay-at-home mom.

Among the highlights of her career was solving a 2009 Skowhegan credit union armed robbery. It took her nearly two years, but Hooper finally got convictions of Forrest T. Goodwin Jr., 34, of Fairfield, and Paul Garland, 27, of Oakland. She and another police officer were honored for their work during 2013 National Crime Victims Week.

Hooper said she was able to use DNA samples to arrest the pair because one of them spit on the credit union clerk during the robbery.

“For me and my career, I have been able to communicate very well with males or females, whether they’re in crisis, whether it’s an arrestable incident, whether it’s the mentally ill. I have been able to communicate with them at a level where it de-escalates them and doesn’t bring them up to a higher level where it’s going to bring violence on me or we have to use some sort of restraint on them,” she said.

She said active listening, empathy and compassion are the keys to being a good law enforcement officer, male or female.

Hooper said she is moving out west to be with a Montana man she met three years ago. He works on the oil rigs in North Dakota and his sister is Hooper’s best friend.

Hooper said she is excited to work with adults who are on parole or probation.

“It’s a whole different aspect of law enforcement that I’m really interested in,” she said. “I’ll have the traditional case load, which is felons that are out on probation after completing their sentence incarcerated. It’s more restorative justice. Instead of arresting people and putting them in jail, I have an opportunity to work with them and utilize the resources that Montana offers to make them productive citizens in the community.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow