By Dave Russell
One of the three constants of Sylva Police Chief Tammy Hooper’s life – faith, family and law enforcement – comes to an end when she vacates her corner office Aug. 1.
After a two-year stint as chief, the first female to hold that post in Sylva, Hooper, 50, is stepping away from 30 years in local law enforcement, the only work she has known since she was 19 years old.
Hooper’s law-enforcement career started in 1989 as secretary and receptionist for a former regional drug task force that included Jackson County. She went on to work as a jailer and dispatcher for the county.
“Sheriff Robert Allen offered me a detective’s position, working juvenile sex abuse cases,” she said. “That was a very tough position and some cases still bother me to this day.”
She worked full time while attending basic law enforcement training at Southwestern Community College.
“I worked eight hours a day as a detective and went to night school,” she said. “It was very hard working and going to school, but it was well worth it.”
During that time, she assisted in one of the biggest cases of her career, with seven individuals charged with murder.
She joined the Sylva Police Department in 1997, becoming assistant chief in 2004 and chief in 2017.
Hooper has updated the department with new equipment, technology and added training since taking office.
“I’m really proud of the new weapons, active shooter ballistic vests, communications, Mobile CAD (computer aided dispatch) system,” she said. “These were very important items to assist officers with everyday operations and to ensure officer safety.
“SPD officers have had numerous specialized training courses such as hostage negotiation, drug interdiction, narcan (Naloxone), an additional department instructor, along with implementing an Emergency Operations Plan for each of Sylva’s special events.”
Hooper grew up in Cullowhee, attending Cullowhee High School, and she has never left.
“I’ve never wanted to leave,” she said. “Jackson County offered everything I wanted and then when I had kids, I wanted to raise them here.”
Hooper and her husband, Jackson County Chief Deputy Kim Hooper, have two children, 16-year-old Baylee and 22-year-old Brady.
“I’m honored for the opportunity to have worked with such great officers and to have served the people of Sylva,” she said. “The town of Sylva has been really good to me. Right now, I really don’t have any future plans. I want to do more volunteer work within the community. I’m hoping to work with Meals on Wheels. I’m going to have to do something. I love having day-to-day contact with people.”
She would gladly come back and help the SPD with parades or other events, she said.
“If they ask me, I would be honored to,” she said. “I’ll continue to be the police department’s loudest cheerleader.”
Getting in touch with more of the community is one of her proudest accomplishments, she said.
“We’ve done that by having different events,” she said. “We had the Civilian Police Academy, Treat Street, women’s self defense class, HOPE (march for breast cancer awareness) and National Night out. We patrol the daycares daily by going inside and visiting with the staff and children. It builds great relationships between the kids and police officers.”
Substance abuse continues to be one of the biggest challenges for the next generation of law enforcement, she said.
“We are seeing more crimes committed because of substance abuse than any other,” she said.
The aspect of the job she will miss the most is the officers, the people she has met through the years walking Main Street, business owners and the people who make up the community, she said.
Her faith remains a rock in her life.
“I have always prayed and asked the good Lord above for guidance and protection and I am very thankful for his blessing and protection of the men and women of the Sylva Police Department,” she said. “Before we did any event we would always have prayer and ask God for his protection. That will always be my prayer – the protection and guidance for the police department and all emergency services in our community.”