ORANGE - Ever since she was a youngster Heather Foote knew what she wanted to be when she grew up - a member of the law enforcement community. And throughout her academic years that desire never waned. When she had the opportunity, she added forensic science to her learning.

That dream came true when she became a member of the Orange Police Department eight years ago. First assigned to the patrol division, Foote said she loved every minute of it; in fact she has loved every minute of the past eight years.

"I have never woken up and thought I didn't want to go to work," Foote said. "I feel lucky to work here," she added.

And because of this desire to be the best she can be she has been chosen the 2006 Connecticut Association of Women Police Officer of the Year.

"I know many of the past recipients who have won this award and have a hard time putting myself at their level, their caliber, their level of policing," Foote said.

"It humbles me to think this administration thinks I should be there," Foote said.

Police Chief Robert Gagne said Foote was well- qualified for the award.

"It is quite an honor for the department. It is a very prestigious award and Heather is well- deserving of the award," he said.

From the patrol division Foote transferred to the Youth and Community Policing division commonly referred to as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer but is much more comprehensive than that.

"It was the best decision I made to take that position. I have learned many things doing community policing. I have learned why we do this job. It's being proactive, you can prevent what we see in patrol," Foote said. I also learned how to talk to kids," she said smiling.

First Selectman Jim Zeoli said he has been impressed with Foote.

"She is an exemplary officer and truly deserving of this award. She has been an asset to the police department. I always noted that during the DARE ceremony the kids seemed to really relate to her," Zeoli said.

Retired Officer Lois Wack, the state nominating chairwoman, said the criteria for choosing the Officer of the Year is set by the International Association of Women Officers and includes; leadership, excellence in performance, mentoring, community service and acts of valor.

"There were quite a few nominations and when we looked at Heather we were extremely impressed in what she accomplished in a short career. She has done an awful lot in that time," Wack said. "That is why and how she was chosen."

Foote was recently reassigned to the Investigative Unit, a lateral move. The new youth and community officer is Donald Scott Jr.

She has been on the new job for about a month. At full shift there are four investigators, a youth officer and headed by a lieutenant.

The job of the investigators encompasses anything a patrolman doesn't have the time for, leg work, interviews, credit card theft, identify theft, assault, robbery she explained.

"I love it and am still learning as I go along," she said with enthusiasm.

She is also a bike officer.

"It is an awesome tool and a great way to connect with the public," she said

Her husband also is an Orange Police Officer, Brian Foote, he specializes in accident reconstruction she explained adding that they met at a training class in Orange. They have been married for two years.

Gagne praised Foote's commitment to her profession.

"She has done an outstanding job here no matter what we assigned her to do. The nature of her previous assignment (youth) there were many different aspects that took her in many directions and she did each of them well. A lot of community involvement, speaking to numerous groups, the elderly," he said.

"Heather has a very professional and knowledgeable demeanor but at the same time she is warm and personable," Gagne said.

Other examples of Foote's dedication to the community include the Women's Self-Defense Course that she actively sought out the training for so she could offer it to the women of Orange. She organizes the classes and does the training herself.

She organizes the Police Citizens Academy. The program covers areas from patrol to hands-on crimes scene processing. She schedules it, lines up guest speakers and teaches many of the areas herself.

She researched and implemented the Juvenile Review Board. She also sits on the panel for this board which defers juvenile offenders who have committed a minor transgression away from the Juvenile Court.

"Kids making bad choices, kids who might have thrown a rock in a window," Foote said explaining what type of misdemeanors were worked through. "The court system is helped as well so it can concentrate on serious offenses,' Foote said.

She also took on many of the community events where the police participate such as safety days for kids, bicycle safety, the Orange Country Fair, school safety, crime prevention, senior organizations etc.

"There are a lot of people in this department who are deserving of this award I'm proud to work in a department where all the officers are high caliber," Foote said.

"Heather doesn't do these things for an award or accolades. She does the right thing she does it consistently and well," Gagne said.