Mary Browning spreads kindness over her two decades with the Naperville Police Department

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“It really was the career of a lifetime, where I think the best part is that it was rewarding,” said Crime Prevention Specialist with the Naperville Police Department Mary Browning. “I felt as though I really gave back to the community.”

After nearly two decades with the Naperville Police Department (NPD), Crime Prevention Specialist Mary Browning is retiring in July.

She spent the majority of her career working in Naperville School District 203 with elementary school children, teaching them about staying safe at home by themselves, on the internet and personal safety. She also served the city’s elderly population.

“The most rewarding part is just knowing that I’m helping keep the residents of Naperville safe, whether you’re a toddler or whether you’re a senior.”

Browning answers the call to public safety

Before arriving at the NPD, Browning worked in retail and as a contract trainer, but said she felt the calling to work in public safety since her days as a Girl Scout.

“I saw this job in the paper, and I’m like, ‘This is exactly what I want to do, how people learn how to be safe.”

For the past 20 years, she used her experience as a scout to educate the next generation.

“I have helped 1,168 scouts earn either their fingerprinting merit badge, their crime prevention merit badge, (or) their traffic safety merit badge,” said Browning.

Part of Browning’s time was spent teaching kids at Naperville’s Safety Town. Earlier this month, she stopped by a summer camp to give a lesson on stranger danger.

“I’m somebody they don’t know, I’m a stranger, and so I come up to the playground and I go, ‘Hi boys and girls, I just got a brand new puppy and he’s so soft, come on over and give him a pat,’” said Browning.

“No,” the kids say.

“They remember to say no, excellent!” said Browning.

Even when the Safety Town kids are all grown up, Browning still has plenty of tips to offer before they leave the nest.

“We would have a couple of nights here at the police department meant for (upcoming) college freshmen and their parents,” said Browning. “The first part of the presentation was done by (a) commander, and it was all about, ‘Okay, you have this newfound freedom, right?’ I would talk about crime prevention as far as personal safety, how to keep track of property, what to do if something happens.”

“The nicest person at the Naperville Police Department”

Back in 2017, Browning brought the whole Naperville Police Department together to take part in a nationwide movement.

“They were called Kindness Rocks, and you would paint them and place them in certain areas around your town, maybe a park or playground,” said Browning. “It was really well received throughout the community, and it was a great team-building exercise here at the police department as well.”

The Kindness Rocks initiative was one of many reasons Browning earned the nickname “the nicest person at the Naperville Police Department.”

“I like to make people laugh, and sometimes police work is not fun,” said Browning. “Our social workers and our patrol officers, they see a lot of bad things, so when they come to the police department, I want to them to feel welcome, I want them to feel like this is a good place to be. And if I can inject a little humor or a little kindness or a little smile, like what the heck, right? Everybody needs that.”

Browning honored for her years of service

At the 2024 Citizens Appreciate Public Safety, or CAPS Awards in May, Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres presented Browning with a Meritorious Service Award for her time with the NPD.

“I was shocked and humbled by that, it meant a lot to me because it meant that my 19.5 years of service to (the) police department and community was recognized, and I felt good about that,” said Browning.

When reflecting on Browning’s time with the police department, Arres had no shortage of compliments.

“Full of good ideas, always trying to find different ways to deliver the important messages she gives to our community,” Arres said. “Always striving to be better tomorrow than you were today, I really like that mentality.”

Along with her Meritorious Service Award, Browning was recently named the 2024 Outstanding Illinois State Crime Stoppers Board Member.

“It wasn’t enough that she was doing great work here in her role with the police department,” said Arres. “Then she donates her time to be part of the Crime Stoppers board, which is helping us find ways to develop tips to solve crimes, which brings justice to those victimized, so truly giving back in every sense of the word.”

Next steps for Browning

Browning said she “absolutely plans” to stay in the Naperville area once she retires. 

Though she said she’ll miss being out in the city teaching people how to be safe, she’s hopeful the Naperville Police Department can keep spreading kindness each day.

“I’m just very thankful that I was able to be an extremely small part of this department, which was rewarding for me personally, and hopefully rewarding for the community as well,” said Browning. “We’ve been voted one of the best places in America to live. It doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by people working together, creating initiatives, creating programs. Everybody from records, to patrol, to investigations, we all work together to make Naperville a safer, and better place.

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