Linda Barker, shown here with her husband, Reed Barker, in 2011. The longtime South Portland Police officer retired from the department on March 6 after 39 years. Courtesy / Linda Barker

SOUTH PORTLAND —In her 39 years with the South Portland Police Department, Linda Barker’s duties ranged from undercover work confronting drug dealers to investigating a high-profile disappearance case to routine patrol work.

But of all the things she has done, Barker remembers most fondly the work she did on educational programs for children.

“I love kids. I absolutely love young people and working with them,” she said.

Barker retired from the department on March 6.

For her, choosing police work for a career was easy. No one in her family, including her four siblings, ever worked in law enforcement, but her aunt was a social worker in Massachusetts and her mother was a librarian and substitute teacher. Barker credits them with instilling her with an interest in public service. The only difference: Barker knew she did not want to work in an office or behind a desk.

“I wanted to have some excitement,” said the 1976 graduate of Bonny Eagle High School.

And she got it. After attending Southern Maine Community College for law enforcement technology and graduating from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in April 1981, she got hired in South Portland that same month. By July, the rookie officer was doing undercover drug work.

“I had no hesitation at all,” she said.

It was dangerous work. Barker recalled one face-to-face meeting with a drug dealer who, placing a gun on the table between them, told Barker, “If you’re a narc, you’re dead.”

“That got my attention,” Barker said.

But it didn’t frighten her off. After her stint undercover, Barker went on to become a detective, a position she held for 19 years. One of the major investigations she remembers was the Pearl Bruns case, which went on to get statewide attention. Bruns, 42, went missing in 1991. Barker spent months tracking any possible place Bruns could have gone. Barker’s husband, Reed Barker, also a South Portland police officer, whom she met on the force and married in 1983, worked the case at night while she worked during the day. Inquiries went as far as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to check whether Bruns had left the country.

“It was quite an intensive investigation,” she said.

In the end, it took ground-penetrating radar from the State Police to find Bruns’ body buried in the basement of the home she shared with her husband, William. In 1994, William Bruns, then 62, was indicted for murder and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Longtime South Portland Police officer Linda Barker, shown here in 2009, retired on March 6 from the department after 39 years of service. Courtesy / Linda Barker

Barker continued her own education even while on the job, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Maine in 1987. She also has two master’s degrees: one in addiction counseling from 1999, the second in education earned in 2006, both from the University of New England. She developed a true passion for using her position to educate local children, becoming a school resource officer in 2000. In those days, such positions were new, and Barker was one of Maine’s first.

“It was a great position,” she said.

Kathy Germani, now the assistant superintendent for the South Portland School District, was the principal of Mahoney High School when Barker first became the school resource officer, and also when Barker ran the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

“Linda was just the right person,” Germani said. “She was great at forging connections with kids.”

Germani said Barker’s rapport with the students is what she remembered most.

“She never stayed in her office. She was always around the school,” Germani said. “Any opportunity she had to have a conversation with kids, she would take advantage of it.”

Germani said Barker also wanted to engage with the kids outside the school, helping to arrange funds for field trips and various outdoor activities. It was the embodiment, Germani said, of what is now commonly called community policing.

“I think it helped build a stronger community,” she said. “Kids would see Linda out working, and it wasn’t a negative to see a police officer.”

Former South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins agreed that Barker defined community policing for the town.

“The impact that she had was absolutely incredible,” he said. “The city was very, very blessed to have her.”

Barker helped institute the town’s “Smokeless Saturday” program. Modeled after a similar program she and fellow officers discovered in Dover, New Hampshire, the idea was to give first-time teenage offenders a chance to void a summons for tobacco possession by attending a Saturday class on the subject.

“This was an educational alternative to the court system,” she said.

The program gave teenagers who wanted to quit smoking a chance to start the process. Barker said the program also gave teenagers a chance to address other problems they might be having, even behavioral or similar problems unrelated to smoking.

“We thought it was phenomenal,” she said.

Lt. Todd Bernard, who worked with Barker for years, said the community appreciated Barker’s commitment to youth education.

“She’s incredibly loved in the community, especially in the school area,” he said.

Bernard said what he remembered most about Barker was how many different duties she has filled in the department over the years.

“She’s done it all,” he said.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, she has triumphed in personal battles with cancer, too. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2007, and again in 2015. She has also survived a diagnosis in 2018 of acute myeloid leukemia.

“I’m 62 and glad to be alive,” she said.

Despite her retirement, Barker isn’t sitting still. Now living in Gorham, she still teaches several criminology and sociology classes at St. Joseph’s College, and keeps up with outdoor activities, including kayaking, hiking and motorcycling. She remains close with her children, Joseph Barker, 42, of Gray, a troubleshooter for Central Maine Power; Reed Barker Jr., 29, of St. Augustine, Florida, a heavy equipment manager, and Valerie Barker, 32, a registered nurse at Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Florida.

Unlike other retirees, however, Barker said she has no big plans for the immediate future.

“I’m kind of looking at what life sends me next,” she said.

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