School Resource Officer Tom Poulin walks the hallways at Auburn Middle School earlier this year.

School Resource Officer Tom Poulin walks the hallways at Auburn Middle School earlier this year.

School Resource Officer Tom Poulin walks the hallways at Auburn Middle School earlier this year.

School Resource Officer Tom Poulin walks the hallways at Auburn Middle School earlier this year.

AUBURN – From the start of Tom Poulin’s police career, people have been telling him he could not do things in certain ways.

It began back at the police academy in 1985.

“I was 35 years old. They thought I should drop out because it was a young man’s job,” said Poulin, now 64. “All I wanted to do was help people. That’s not what they thought back in 1989. They called me a liar and said the sooner I accept it, the better off I’d be. I heard it many times in the 12 weeks I was there.”

But Poulin has persisted, and for the past 29 years has been an Auburn cop who helped change how police interact with the community.

He launched the Blue Christmas program to collect gifts for needy kids and families, and ran the program for 11 years.

A trained chef, Poulin for a time ran a science-through-cooking program for high school kids.

He has been a school resource officer and a motorcycle cop. Every day he served on the force, Poulin sought to close the gap between police officers and the people they serve.

“It was something I thought police officers should do when I was a kid,” Poulin said. “I should know that they’re police officers, but I should be able to look at them as regular people, too. That’s not the way it was back then.”

Two decades ago, according to Auburn police Chief Phil Crowell, Poulin decided he wanted to be the department’s school resource officer. The chief describes that move as a win for all involved. Poulin landed that position, and he stayed there instead of seeking promotions that would have taken him out of the schools.

“He could have easily progressed in the ranks,” Crowell said, “but his passion is serving youth, and chose to stay as an officer in the schools. Many lives have been changed for the better because of Tom Poulin. His impact started with Auburn’s Blue Christmas and spans to his culinary program at the PAL Center.

“There is no replacing an officer like Tom Poulin,” Crowell said.

“There is no officer in the history of the department that has had a greater impact on generations of kids than Tom Poulin,” said Jason Moen, the department’s deputy chief. “He spent 20 of his 29 years as a school resource officer, advocating for children. The institutional knowledge that he had on the families of Auburn can never be replaced. Simply an amazing man.”

The ultimate ‘Officer Friendly’

Over almost three decades, Poulin saw a shift in how police engaged with the community. In Auburn, he was a large part of that shift. In 2009, Poulin was recognized for that role — and, in particular, for his work with young people — when he was named Auburn’s Citizen of the Year.

“It would be gross understatement to say he is an unsung hero,” Auburn police Sgt. Jason Moore said. “Most people have no idea the amount of work Officer Poulin put in. He is very visible at the PAL Center, in the schools and at other department functions, such as National Night Out.

“What you don’t see is the many child-abuse cases and DHHS referrals he handled. He worked tirelessly to not only protect but also truly serve Auburn’s youth. His absence will surely be felt as school resumes in these coming weeks. I know I will miss “Officer Friendly.'”

After 29 years of taking on naysayers, Poulin is retiring. On Friday, his colleagues plan to send him off the traditional way, with a final ride in a cruiser to his home where retirement awaits.

Not that Poulin plans to be home for long.

‘Our next adventure’

If there is one person who never tried to interfere with Poulin’s career, or inhibit him in any way, it was his wife, Susan. They have been married 44 years and after owning a restaurant together, Poulin announced he wanted to become a police officer, taking on the risks and crazy hours that the profession demands.

“My wife has always given up a lot of things — understanding my shifts, understanding everything else that went with it,” Poulin said. “She understood that my job was very important to me. Now, all she is asking for is our time. She’s stuck with me for 44 years, God bless her soul. Now it’s time for just us.”

Poulin was 20 years old when he married Susan, who was 19. And from the beginning, they have had a dream they now see coming to fruition.

“We have sold everything and we’re now living in our motor home,” Poulin said. “We are debt-free and we can travel wherever we want, which has been our dream since we got married. We worked all our lives for this.”

After 29 years of patrolling Auburn’s streets and school hallways, Poulin will now take on the rest of the country, traveling in a 40-foot RV.

“Just myself, my wife and my dog,” Poulin said. “I think I’ll always find something to do. I’m not worried about that at all. We’re looking forward to it as our next adventure.”