STONINGTON — When Officer Kerry Browning joined the Stonington Police Department, she entered with the goal of being able to serve her community, help those in need and be a good role model for those around her.

Now the 14-year veteran officer will get the opportunity build on her success and seek to attain all three goals at once as the community's first-ever female youth officer.

The 34-year-old southeastern Connecticut resident and Mystic native was hired as the newest youth officer last week, stepping in to replace the recently-retired Officer Thomas Paige. Browning said she knows it'll be hard to replace what Paige brought to the role over the years, but said she is looking forward to the challenge.

"I can't say enough about Tom or what he did for our community, and I know I've got big shoes to fill. I'm excited for the opportunity."

Stonington Poliec Capt. Todd Olson said the agency will certainly miss Paige, who worked for the department for 25 years and has long served in the role of the community's youth officer. The role isn't an easy one, Olson said, and requires officers show great independence and self-motivation, in addition to holding themselves to the highest standard.

The town's youth officer is responsible for working closely with both public and private schools in town, as well as handling crimes investigations involving children. The officer also represents the department at various public events and works closely with the state's Department of Children and Families, as well as other youth agencies in the region.

The department had five internal applicants to fill the position, Olson said, and department administrators had the difficult choice of selecting from what he described as five well-rounded, highly qualified candidates for the position. The position was selected after a lengthy interview process that included input from Van Riley, superintendent of Stonington Public Schools.

"For us, it was a very difficult decision and that was a good problem to have," Olson said. "All of those who applied made us proud to realize the caliber of talent and professionalism we have in this department."

Olson said after reviewing all options, it became clear that Browning had both the skill set and communications abilities necessary to not only succeed, but thrive in the role. He said her background as a trained D.A.R.E. officer also gave her an added advantage that will help her to hit the ground running. She has also served on the Statewide Narcotics Task Force where she worked on many major criminal cases in Eastern Connecticut.

A 2007 graduate of the University of Connecticut where she received a bachelor's degree in both kinesiology and psychology, Browning was born and raised in the Mystic area in a family with a background in law enforcement.

She was a graduate of Fitch High School as a member of the Class of 2003 and joined the Stonington Police Department as a patrol officer shortly after graduating from UConn. As a second generation officer, Browning said working in law enforcement was always something she wanted to do.

Browning father, Robert Manley, served 32 years with the Town of Groton Police Department before retiring as a sergeant in 2006, and Browning said he always instilled in her the importance of always doing what's right, no matter how difficult it may be.

"Even through the challenging times, he always did everything he could to improve the town and make the community a better place. That is something that I always admired in him, and something that made me want to become an officer," Browning said.

Browning said she is excited for the opportunity to serve in a youth officer position, something she said has been a goal of hers "since day one." In the new role, she said she hopes to carry on Paige's legacy and further establish strong connections between police, the schools and the community as a whole.

"I want to humanize police, to show our residents that officers want to be part of the community," she said. "I want to build a partnership that will expand on what has already been accomplished and makes Stonington an even better place to live."

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