SOUTH PORTLAND — Known for being honest and professional – and never swearing on a job that might make the most polite person cuss – Police Chief Edward Googins announced Wednesday that he will retire in January, ending a nearly 50-year career in law enforcement.

Googins also is credited with turning around a police department that had a tarnished reputation when he took over 25 years ago, and leaving city officials with a significant challenge to find his replacement.

“After I’m done licking my wounds at the loss of Chief Googins and celebrating all that he has accomplished, we’re going to have to do a search,” Mayor Claude Morgan said. “Knowing Ed the way I do, I’m sure he’s fostered leadership within the department, so we may not have to look far.”

Googins rose through the ranks of the Portland Police Department, working in Maine’s largest city for 23 years before becoming South Portland’s chief in 1994. He announced his pending retirement Wednesday afternoon, sharing his plans first with city officials, then telling officers at the station in person and sending an email to all department members.

“To say the decision to retire has been difficult is a profound understatement,” Googins said. “When you do the job you love for over 47 years, deciding when to leave is not easy.”

Googins, 66, thanked the department’s 56 officers and seven civilian employees “for the hard work each of you do every day to provide essential police services to this community and to keep this community safe.”

Googins said his primary focus for the past 25 years has been to fight for and provide each officer with the necessary resources and equipment to do a difficult job safely.

“Police work is not easy or for the fainthearted,” Googins said. “In recent years it has become extremely more complicated and challenging. Without continuous training, the best equipment and strong community support, it would be an impossible job.”

The warmth and respect Googins has shown for his officers is mutual, said Shane Stephenson, a canine officer who is president of the patrol officers union in a city of more than 25,000 people.

“It’s going to be tough to fill his shoes,” Stephenson said. “He always follows his heart and tries to do what’s best for the department, his officers and the city as a whole.”

Googins began his career as an 18-year-old police cadet in Portland. Fresh out of Portland High School, he had enrolled in the new law enforcement program at South Maine Vocational Technical Institute – today’s Southern Maine Community College – and found that he liked it.

“I wasn’t old enough to be a patrolman,” Googins recalled. “I went through the police academy as a cadet. On my 21st birthday in 1974, I was sworn in as a patrolman in the Portland Police Department.”

Googins was a captain in Portland when he was hired to be South Portland’s chief. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Southern Maine, graduating summa cum laude in 1989. Even so, he hadn’t taken his last test.

“South Portland is the only police department in Maine that makes chief candidates take the civil service exam,” Googins said. “So I had to take a test to get this job.”

Googins’ starting salary as chief was $46,612.80 per year – less than half of the $101,982 he’s paid now. Also, because he retired from the Portland Police Department after more than 20 years of service, Portland continues to pay him half of his captain’s salary each year.

When Googins was named chief, then-City Manager Jerre Bryant described him as “the clear choice” in a field of nine finalists. Bryant, who is now Westbrook’s city manager, said Googins had a “distinguished career of leadership in the Portland Police Department” and was known for his “openness, communication and listening skills.”

All of those attributes would help Googins take on a department that had been through rough waters in recent years.

Some South Portland officers were found to have used excessive force in a 1988 arrest. In 1991, the city settled a false-arrest case brought by a Sanford police officer. The same year, the department faced criticism for treating what turned out to be a murder case as a missing-person investigation.

In 1993, the previous chief, Robert Schwartz, was the subject of controversy for his role in the fixing of a speeding ticket for the city manager. And in April 1994, Schwartz and two top officers were disciplined for discriminating against a detective because she is a woman. Schwartz retired in August 1994.

Back then, Portland Deputy Chief John Brennan said he called Googins “Monsignor” because he never swore and was so polite. Brennan also noted that Googins often spoke directly with patrol officers rather than ask supervisors what the rank and file were thinking.

South Portland police were getting a chief that “they’re going to like … and respect very quickly,” Brennan said. “It’s always easier to work with a manager who’s not dictatorial and not autocratic and is open with people.”

Michael Chitwood, Portland’s police chief at the time, called Googins an ethical, hard-working family man who would bring new life to the South Portland department. Chitwood said he once told Googins, “Eddie, if I were a woman, I would want a husband like you.”

Stephenson, the union president, said the chief has led the South Portland department by paying attention to both the big and small things. He said Googins is a big-hearted, open-door leader who visits officers when they’re in the hospital, checks in with them to see how their personal lives are going, puts on a department Christmas party each year and sends birthday cards to each of his employees.

At the same time, Stephenson said, Googins is a progressive, FBI leadership-trained law enforcement professional who has kept up with the latest trends, such as putting his officers in outer body armor, which allows them avoid back problems and be more effective and safe on the job.

Morgan, South Portland’s mayor, said Googins’ honesty and integrity have set a standard for the department, which has made strides in one of Maine’s busiest service centers during rapidly changing times. The department is actively involved in youth and immigrant outreach programs, and it recently hired a behavioral health liaison to follow up on calls involving domestic violence, mental health issues, the opioid crisis and other community concerns.

Looking back over nearly five decades of police work, Googins said he remembers both good and difficult experiences. One of the toughest came early in his career, when he responded to three sudden infant death cases in one week.

“At the time, my oldest daughter was an infant,” Googins said. “The families were looking for answers. It made me realize that our job isn’t just about solving crimes. It’s also about helping people understand what’s happening in their lives.”

The most horrific experience of his career came one night in October 2006, when Officer Steve Connors was shot four times in the line of duty. Terrell Dubois was later convicted of attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault and aggravated drug trafficking, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

“That was one very tough night,” Googins said. “Steve was one of my first hires. I’m happy to say he survived and he still works with us today.”

Googins said he’s grateful to have enjoyed “incredible community support” throughout his time in South Portland.

“From my beginning as chief, it was important we focus on engaging with those we work with to foster an atmosphere of cooperation, transparency, trust and respect,” Googins told his officers. “Please know the pride I feel in each of you for the jobs you do so well. I will take that with me when I leave.”

Googins said it has been an honor and a privilege to lead South Portland police officers for 25 years. Now, he’s looking forward to traveling with his wife, Rebecca, who is a registered nurse, doing home improvement projects for his family and spending time with his three children and two grandchildren.

“It’s been quite a career, Googins said. “I’ve loved every minute.”