YORK, Maine — Officer Jamie Rooney has been a cop with the York Police Department for 15 years. This fall, Rooney replaced Officer Scott Cogger as York Middle School’s resource officer, a position she has held at York High School for the past nine years. Her role as school resource officer is to foster relationships with students to prevent juvenile delinquency.
Rooney is a petite young blonde who could easily be mistaken for a high school student. She lives in Wells and is the single parent of two children, ages 8 and 6. How she came to be a police officer is no accident. She has agreed to share an unpublished interview she granted in 2010.
“I’m anxious, not ashamed,” she said of the interview. “If it can empower one person or help them come talk to me, [it’s worth it].”
Question: What was your proudest moment?
Answer: I was very proud when I graduated the police academy. I come from a house where most of my family are in jail or belong in jail. I’m the black sheep who went against every grain. When they [police] did my background check, I was nervous about them seeing where I lived and meeting people like my family. Luckily, they knew me as a dispatcher.
I was 20 years old carrying a gun. I mean, that’s crazy. The average 20-year-old, no way could they handle that kind of responsibility. But, I come from picking people off the ground, taking care of my family.
Q: Does your family have to do with your wanting to become a police officer?
A: I knew everything my family did was wrong. When I was little I lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, with my mom. My parents divorced when I was a baby … we lived in the projects, very low-income housing. … [There were] masses of apartment buildings.
In back of the apartments was a playground with basketball courts. All us kids would hang out there. I was a minority [Caucasian] but I had friends who took me in. I think it was because I had blonde hair and blue eyes. They thought I was the cutest little thing. These girls were jacked. I hung out with older kids. I was smart. I knew to survive I needed kids who could protect me. I try to look after kids here the way they looked after me.
Once when we were hanging out, a cop car pulled up. In Worcester they ride two officers in a cruiser. These two good-looking officers got out. We were like, ‘Oh boy, someone’s in trouble’ and they [officers] said, ‘Can we play?’ They started playing basketball with the guys. I was 7 or 8. I’ll never forget it. The guy had a pack of Trident gum. I remember him asking if I wanted a piece. We didn’t have gum — we were poor, we had nothing. That was like a steak to us.
Q: So your view of police officers was positive early on?
A: Even though they were at my house regularly for domestic issues involving my mother and her boyfriend, whoever at the time. I can’t tell you how many times I dialed 911 as a child, but they always came. They made it better. The fighting stopped when they got there. I want to do that for somebody.
Q: Do you share your story with the troubled youths you work with?
A: Just the ones with traumatic issues. You look at me now and I’ve got my Polo shirt and Dockers on, but when I got dropped off to college I had tattered clothes in a garbage bag. That was all I had. My aunt dropped me off because I was emancipated when I was 16.
Q: How did you become emancipated?
A: When I was a senior in high school we had a situation at the house. It was very violent; my stepmother beat the living crap out of me. I ended up in the hospital. The hospital called the police because I had serious injuries to my face. The deputy said, ‘Kid, we gotta do something with ya.’ My friend who had taken me to the hospital, her parents said, ‘She’ll stay with us.’ The state required I get emancipated or go into foster care. I had six months left of school before graduating. I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I just had to get there.
I remember the day I decided to move to Maine with my father. I was at a friend’s house. It was 2 a.m. Things started not being very good there. It was a bad situation. I decided to walk a mile home straight through the projects. I was scared out of my mind … it’s pitch black and people get shot. I got to my house and knocked on the door for my mom to let me in. She never asked where I was or what I had been doing. At 13, I already knew — this isn’t going to end good. So, I stuck it out in Jackson with my dad, his wife and her two kids.
Q: How did life change for you?
A: It was culture shock. My sister and I were the cleaners. We did the cooking and took care of all the animals. Her [the stepmother’s] teenage sons had no responsibilities. We lugged wood at night and did everything but, you know what? It was better than what I had.
My father’s hands were tied because he needed someone to take care of his kids. His wife didn’t have the tools to raise kids. She had a lot of issues. She had her first child at 12. Being opinionated and strong-willed made me a target. But I had a roof over my head. We always had food because we lived on a farm. I made that trade-off with myself.
Q: Other people have had your position. What makes you different?
A: My heart and soul is in everything I do. Growing up where you had to walk into a store, take off your shoes and walk out of the store with new ones — without paying because you needed them — it teaches you a bit about life and importance. No one asked me where I got the new shoes. You just did what you did to survive. That all came back on my polygraph, by the way, they [York police] know about me stealing clothes off a clothesline because I didn’t have a sweatshirt.
Q: When were you really terrified on the job?
A: I have more of an issue with the unknown than if somebody is in front of me, because your training teaches you to analyze things quickly and make an action plan. I’ve been in a situation on the side of the road when a man double my size has become combative. You just do it. After, I’ll be like, ‘Holy crap, I can’t believe that just happened.’ When you’re 117 pounds, you have to be fast. People can’t know what you’re going do until you’ve done it. That was day one, Cop 101.
Q: Is there a soft, squishy side to Officer Rooney?
A: I’m a sap with my kids. I don’t freak out about stuff. I’m on the floor playing with them constantly and love that part of my life.
Q: What was your happiest moment?
A: My kids, of course. What mom wouldn’t say that? They’re my life and that’s why I do everything I do. You make sacrifices, but who cares?