Piper Hamelin, the city’s first female police officer and founder of the youth organization, Overture, died on Wednesday. She was 93.
The daughter of a police officer, Hamelin declared as a teenager that she intended to follow in her father’s footsteps and enter law enforcement, even though there were no female officers in the entire state at the time and her mother expected her to pursue a career playing flute, a talent for which she had already gained some notoriety.
At age 22, with her father’s blessing and the idea among town council members that she might attract publicity, Piper Hamelin was hired as a policewoman. As the town council hoped, she did attract publicity, but not only for being a woman. Less than two years after being hired, and even though she had been supposedly assigned only to interviewing women and youth, she managed to solve two kidnappings, a homicide, and a dozen burglaries. Though she technically remained assigned to the care of female suspects and prisoners, after five years even the chief of police admitted that she was their “number one rat catcher” and quietly made her a detective, though unofficially.
After years of working with troubled youth, and after leaving the police department over a dispute regarding her pay, Hamelin founded an organization designed to help young people create a new future, regardless of their past. She named the organization Overture and at the time of her retirement it was one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the state. But the organization had critics, most of whom complained that Hamelin actively encouraged young people to pursue both educational and career opportunities in other places. Young people were leaving the city in droves, they said, because Hamelin did not encourage them to remain. Hamelin argued that the city would sink under the weight of its own youth if all of them remained here.