Kelley Is In Command

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By James J. Allen

Hampton Union, Friday, April 28, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Dave Kelley

HAMPTON -- Long before he became the third-highest ranking officer in the New Hampshire State Police - before he had even become a uniformed policeman - Hampton's Dave Kelley rode along on patrols across the border in Massachusetts.

The pride of the officers, their professionalism, "and the respect that people had once the state police arrived," Kelley said. "It was everything I expected."

Today, the 24-year veteran police officer says one of his key goals as the new N.H. State Police commander of investigative services is to maintain that image and legacy.

Promoted to the position in March, Maj. Kelley today oversees a staff of nearly 100, including detectives in the areas of major crime, intelligence, terrorism, narcotics and investigations, and often works closely with the federal Department of Homeland Security.

"The world is becoming more complex," said Kelley, 48, over coffee in downtown Hampton. "Terrorism and homeland security are obviously at the forefront. (State police work today) is about collaboratively doing what you can to provide for the citizens as best as you can. Even if we don't have the resources, we'll get the job done."

Dressed in the crisp dark suit of an executive, Kelley no longer wears the uniform he did when he was part of a canine unit working the area of Interstate 95, or the plain clothes he wore when he was a detective. But one thing that hasn't changed throughout his varied career is his attitude toward the job.

"I can't even count on one hand the number of times I've woken up and dreaded coming to work," he said.

A native to Melrose, Mass., where his grandfather had worked as a local policeman, Kelley had considered medicine and law school as a student at Northeastern University in Boston. "But I kept coming back to law enforcement, partly because I loved the challenge," he said.

He took and scored highly on the Massachusetts State Police exam, but didn't make the cutoff. One of his gym buddies later introduced him to the New Hampshire State Police, which he applied for, but later learned had instituted a two-year hiring freeze.

Kelley waited it out and in 1982 was admitted to the police academy, graduating in September. During his training, he found the New Hampshire State Police were just as professional and well-respected as their Massachusetts counterparts and seemed even more closely-knit.

"As gung-ho as I was, I remember the first couple of nights there, thinking in my head, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" Kelley said. "They pushed you really hard. I graduated with such a sense of accomplishment."

During his first six weeks of on-the-job training, Kelley remained in the Seacoast, but was assigned to his first solo duty out of the Keene headquarters. His first permanent assignment was in the Concord area where he spent more than three years living in a house owned by an elderly lady named Gram Buzzell, who was known for boarding rookie officers.

In 1986, Kelley returned to the Seacoast and raised a German shepherd named Kaiser who would become his canine partner. Kaiser later became the state's first cadaver dog - trained in finding dead bodies - as well as other crime-solving work.

"He has three people doing life without parole right now," said Kelley of the dog, who has passed away.

Happy with his work with Kaiser, Kelley was approached by his commanding officer in 1990 to apply for a detective's opening. Kelley was apprehensive at first, but was later convinced. When he won the job, he became the first detective in the state to be assigned to a canine.

"It went hand-in-hand with my work," he said.

His first big case as a canine detective came later that year when police learned a woman named Joanna Kozak was missing and had been possibly killed and buried in a former Boy Scout camp in a remote part of Raymond.

On an informant's tip, Kelley and Kaiser zeroed in on a Revolutionary War-era graveyard. But although Kaiser concentrated on the cemetery, Kelley remained unconvinced. The area appeared untouched; huge trees with complex root systems spread around the graves and looked unscathed and then there was the possibility that Kaiser had simply found an older body.

Kelley returned home for the night, but when he told his wife, Lee Ann, about Kaiser's insistence, she admonished him: "Trust the dog."

With a snowstorm threatening the next night, Kelley returned to the graveyard with Kaiser early in the morning and the dog pawed at the same patch of dirt as before. Grabbing a shovel, Kelley dug down nearly two feet, finding nothing. Then, seeing Kaiser pawing right next to the hole, he dug in a few inches over. There, eight inches below the surface lay Kozak's body.

"It was definitely a highlight of my career," he said.

In 1992, Kelley was promoted to corporal and worked for the next eight years as the area's lead investigator of homicides. He was later promoted to sergeant and became a polygraph examiner. In 1999, he became assistant unit commander as part of the major crime division and the next year was appointed commander of the 45 officers in the Seacoast state police unit, known as Troop A, which is based in Epping.

He remained troop commander until 2004, when he was promoted to captain and transferred to the bureau command of investigative services, where he returned to work as a detective, holding the post until he received his latest promotion. Does he dream of someday becoming the head of the state police?

"Here it is 24 years later, I would love to become the colonel of the state police," he said, "because I love the state police, and the men and women of the state police are the hardest working people in the world."

Concentrating on his current job, however, Kelley says his goal is to provide the best services possible to the public.

"It's constantly examining ways to do better and to do more in a way that's effective and efficient," he said.

Kelley, a Hampton resident since 1988, lives with his wife, Lee Ann, of 18 years, and their two school-age sons, Collin and Robert.

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