Life steers commander from farm to force



Commander Kelly Hooten, right, speaks with student engagement coordinator James Lehaman during a club fair on Feb 8

MOIRA MCINTEE, Editor In Chief

A new commander is patrolling the Eastfield campus, but there’s more to Kelly Hooten than policing. A ranch-style home life and love for all things nature make up a big part of his life off campus.

Hooten transferred to Eastfield after five years of service as commander at the Mountain View campus. Before that he spent 23 years with the Lancaster Police Department.

“I actually went to college at Tarleton State University. I finished there, got my degree, and when I got out I started putting out resumes,” he said.

“The degree that I got is in industrial technology. But, at that time when I graduated, they were laying people off. It was the perfect storm for not getting a job.”

After a few years of working odd jobs, Hooten got hired with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department.

“I worked in the jail. And while I was working there, I put myself through the police academy,” he said.

Hooten always had an interest in law enforcement but chose to follow a different path when he entered college. Looking back, he can see it wasn’t the right choice, but things still worked out.

“You might say God had a purpose for me,” he said. “I was trying to do what I thought might be best by going the other direction, but I wound up going back to it anyway.”

Hooten’s interests don’t begin and end with the law. Ten acres of land, 43 chickens and a 31-year-old horse named Domino keep him busy when he’s not in uniform.

“[Domino] is actually a Tennessee Walker,” Hooten said. “She was a three-way blended horse: Tennessee Walker, Paint and Pinto. She’s what they call a Tobiano.”

Hooten worked for a farmer for a short period after graduating college, gaining experience taking care of the land and animals.

“I never had farm animals growing up, but I always had an interest in them,” he said. “I’ve been around people who farmed, but I didn’t get my own animals until I got a house of my own.”

The farm started off as a small project, but it quickly grew into something bigger than he expected. Just a few chicks eventually turned into a large brood.

“Actually, it was my wife who was really interested in getting the chickens,” he said. “But right now, with how high-priced eggs are, it’s very nice to have them.”

Traveling with his wife has always been one of Hooten’s favorite activities despite a recent lapse in travel plans.

“Several years ago, we went to the Smokies and drove up Blue Ridge Parkway,” he said. “That’s a beautiful drive, especially if you hit the right time of the year for the color change.”

Hooten always appreciated the tree line at Mountain View and would take photos when the leaves changed to their bold autumn colors while he was on patrol.

Even with five years of experience as commander at another campus, adjusting to a new work environment still takes time.

man in an office
Kelly Hooten became the commander of campus police at Eastfield
after previously working at Mountian View. (RORY MOORE/THE ET CETERA)

“He’s only been here a short minute, so he’s still trying to get his feet wet,” Cpl. Vicki Ethington said. “But he’s slid in pretty good and we’re all helping him.”

A friendly attitude toward not only his coworkers, but the student body and staff as well, allows him to make connections easily.

“He’s very approachable and he loves to talk,” Ethington said. “He’s very knowledgeable with police stuff but just in general too. He’s super easy to talk to, so he encourages us to talk to him about anything.”

Hooten did not hesitate to jump straight into his new position, catching the attention of administration.

“He showed up for the campus leadership team meeting his first day, after being on the campus less than an hour,” Eastfield President Eddie Tealer said. “So I feel he will continue to be engaged with our campus community.”

Hooten sees his role on campus as a safety net for students. Taking his time gives him the ability to handle situations without needing to escalate in most cases.

“It’s all about people, and how we can help them, how we can serve them,” Hooten said. “It’s about what I can do for other people. How can I help them? Sometimes it’s by removing a threat or whatever. But sometimes it’s just by letting them talk.”

Ethington said campus officers are happy to chat and want students to come say hi.

“Most of us are approachable, even if our face doesn’t show it,” she said. “Cops have a tendency to get this look about them, but it’s just from working so many years in the business. But you can come talk to us and we’ll laugh with you and cut up, just as long as the situation is appropriate for that.”

Police involvement with the campus includes more than just patrolling for illegal or dangerous activity.

“Please visit with our officers and participate in some of their events here on campus,” Tealer said. “For example, they have booths set up in the Hive and promote and support a lot of campus events.”

Hooten said he wants the student body to feel safe around campus police, not intimidated. Transparency and a willingness to listen is how he tries to break down barriers.

“In my experience [law enforcement] can be our own worst enemy,” he said. “Because it’s all about people. It’s how you treat people. And over the last few years, we’ve caught a lot of negativity. And if you want to eliminate as much of that as possible, you have to get into how you treat people and how you conduct yourself and do your job.”

photos by rory moore/The Et Cetera

Commander Kelly Hooten, right, speaks with speaks with student engagement coordinator James Lehaman during a club fair on Feb 8.