For Jessica Danielson, saying goodbye to the community she’s come to know over the last six years will be the toughest part about leaving the Searsport Police Department.

Just before Christmas, Danielson will trade in her winter coat and boots for shorts and shades when she begins a new chapter of her life in Florida. Danielson, who plans to build her life in the Jacksonville area, is looking forward to living in a warmer climate and working as a police officer in that part of the country.

During a recent interview, Danielson looked back fondly on her time with the Searsport department. To start, she expressed gratitude for having had the chance to work with officers who were supportive of her joining the department as the county’s first full-time female police officer.

“The guys in my department were nothing but supportive and protective of me,” she said.

Danielson began her law enforcement career with the Searsport department after spending about 10 years in the mental health field, where she worked with adolescents.

Danielson, a 1994 graduate of Limestone Community School, entered the mental health profession after a two-year stint at the University of Maine at Orono, where she studied agribusiness and resource economics.

“I wasn’t ready for school yet,” remembered Danielson.

From there, Danielson secured a job at the YMCA in Old Town, where she worked with at-risk youth.

“That basically started my work with adolescents,” said Danielson.

For the decade that followed, Danielson worked with Community Health and Counseling Services and Northeast Occupational Exchange. During that time, Danielson worked with teens who were often not enrolled in school, and commonly came to her with a mental health diagnosis, an addiction problem, or both.

That kind of work kept Danielson in constant contact with juvenile probation officers, as many of the youths she worked with had had scrapes with the law. Despite how difficult the profession was sometimes, in that Danielson saw a lot of kids coming from tough home situations, she said she wouldn’t trade the time she spent with each of the young people she came to know through her job.

“I loved working with my kids,” she said with a smile.

That contact with juvenile probation inspired Danielson to enroll at Husson University in Bangor, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in the spring of 2005. Danielson accomplished that while working full-time.

She completed a couple of law enforcement internships in Bangor, working as a dispatcher and with police officers during their shifts. After her internship with the Bangor Police Department, Danielson said, police work got into her blood.

“That’s when I knew I needed to be out on the road,” she said.

That September, Danielson went to work as a full-time officer with the Searsport department. The career move worked out well for Danielson in terms of being close to her family, as her parents, who are both local schoolteachers, moved to the Belfast area in 1998.

Danielson quickly dove into her newfound career, taking every training opportunity that was available to her, especially in the realms of law covering child and elder abuse, domestic violence and prostitution.

“I just think those things are important,” said Danielson. “…That’s one of the things I worry about, is who’s going to take my cases.”

Prior to the addition of Danielson to the Searsport force, cases involving those crimes were turned over to the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office or the Maine State Police. But, after hours of training, it was Danielson who spearheaded those often-sensitive investigations for the small town department.

Danielson said Searsport Police Chief Dick LaHaye deserved a lot of credit for making those training opportunities available to her, as she said he had done for each of her fellow Searsport officers.

“He has been very supportive of anything that we’ve wanted to do to better our careers,” she said of LaHaye. “He wants to make the department better… I’ve never worked for a more amazing person.”

Like all police officers, Danielson can recall times when the job tested her. In particular, Danielson remembered Oct. 23, 2008 — the day she met Randall Hofland. Hofland, of Searsport, is facing 41 charges that include 22 counts of kidnapping, 12 counts of criminal restraint with a dangerous weapon, six counts of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and a burglary charge.

All of the charges — except for one count of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon — stem from Hofland’s appearance Oct. 31, 2008, at Stockton Springs Elementary School, during which he is accused of entering the school, brandishing a handgun and taking the fifth-grade class hostage. Police were able to defuse the situation and placed Hofland under arrest. None of the children was hurt during the incident. Hofland has yet to go on trial to face the charges against him.

The criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon charge Hofland faces stems from his allegedly pointing a gun at Danielson during a routine traffic stop eight days prior to the hostage situation at the school. A manhunt that began following that incident failed to locate Hofland, and his whereabouts were unknown until he was arrested at the school.

Danielson said the day she met Hofland forever changed her life.

Looking back at that time, Danielson described feeling an overwhelming sense of relief when she learned that the children escaped the hostage situation unharmed — Danielson was off-duty that day, and was keeping abreast of the situation via phone with officers who were at the scene. During the entire eight-day manhunt for Hofland, Danielson repeatedly replayed the Oct. 23, 2008, incident in her mind, and wished that Hofland had been caught and arrested at that time. After Hofland’s arrest, Danielson was saddened to know that the children at the school had to meet Hofland in the way that they did.

“That’s what kills me, is him going into that school,” she said.

There have been other instances when Danielson has remained at the scene of a domestic situation for hours, largely spending that time with a victim who was often scared, and had few places to go to escape the abuser.

“When it comes to cases like that, it’s who I am and it’s what I do,” she said. “… I’m not going to say no to somebody, if that’s what they need.”

LaHaye described Danielson as an officer who has what it takes to handle the sensitive cases that she does, and gave her credit for breaking into a predominantly male field.

“I firmly believe there is a place for women in law enforcement, and I think [Danielson] is a very good officer,” he said. “She has done her job well, and I’m going to miss her.”

The Searsport Police Department will be holding an open house Saturday, Dec. 11, 3-5 p.m. The public and members of other local law enforcement agencies are invited to come enjoy some refreshments and say goodbye to Danielson, as well as her co-worker, Sgt. Steve Saucier, who is also leaving the department next week.

Overall, Danielson said that while she feels it’s time for her to make a change in her life, she can’t help but think about all the people within her department and in the community whom she’ll be leaving behind.

“I’m going to miss the people who call in sometimes, just to check in with me and say, ‘This is where I’m at with my life now,’” she said. “You don’t work in a small town for six years and not have relationships with people. I can only hope to work with such good people again.”