Embrace the Journey: Former UNH Student-Athlete Reflects on Path that Led Her to Becoming K-9 Officer

Embrace the Journey: Former UNH Student-Athlete Reflects on Path that Led Her to Becoming K-9 Officer


Carney Credits UNH for Her Path to Becoming K-9 Officer.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Looking back on it now, entering law enforcement and becoming a K-9 officer was the perfect tract for West Haven native Melissa Carney, a 2011 graduate from the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice. However, for Carney that wasn't always her plan, and her time at New Haven as a member of the women's lacrosse team is what helped shape her future.

Most student-athletes know their tract when entering college, they know the sport they are going to play at the next level and they know what their intended major will be, all of which helps determine where a student-athlete will be attending school. For Carney, those were both unknowns as she originally enrolled at Rhode Island College (RIC) in Providence.

It wasn't until she returned to West Haven to attend the school in her backyard that she knew what was next. After spending her freshman season at RIC, Carney's future plans took a turn. She realized that she wanted to go into law enforcement, following in her family's footsteps, and where better to go than the University of New Haven with its renowned Criminal Justice program.

"My father and both of my grandfathers were officers, actually my dad still is in Milford," said Carney. "I practically grew up in a police station. I probably didn't realize it at the time, but being a police officer was always in my future."

While attending graduate school at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a position opened up as a lacrosse coach at Branford High School, a position Carney has now held for the last nine years. While coaching the Hornets a spot opened up in the Branford Police Department. "I didn't even have a chance to finish my classes because before I knew it, at just 22 years old, I was attending the Police Academy in Meriden," continued Carney.Following her freshman season at RIC, Carney decided to transfer to New Haven and pursue criminal justice. She called head coach Jen Fallon to tell her she wanted to continue to play and joined the team as a walk-on. "I thought the transition would be frustrating, that I wouldn't have a place on the team," said Carney. "It was the exact opposite for me. Coach Fallon and my teammates made me love the sport even more, in turn leading me to want to coach."

"Having Jen coach me for two years really prepared me for my career in law enforcement," stated Carney. "The early morning workouts and all the training put me a step ahead when I entered the police academy. I already knew much of what they were asking us to do.

"I really appreciate everything that coach Fallon did for me," continued Carney. "She actively worked to make me a better player and person. She could have let me trail off, but she didn't, she and my teammates kept me engaged. They never gave up."

The feeling of accomplishment didn't take long for Carney as just four days after graduating from the K-9 academy, she and Arrow had their first successful track. Called out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night, Carney and her new partner joined an investigation that followed a motor vehicle accident where the suspect fled on foot into the woods. After getting his scent, Arrow was able to track down the suspect in a thick bed of vegetation. "It was a great experience," Carney said. "After what was a tough academy, being able to put our training to use right away was complete satisfaction."During her hiring process with the Branford Police Department, Carney expressed her interest in becoming a K-9 handler. It took six years, but Carney was back in training, this time with her new partner Arrow. "It's a completely different experience," said Carney. "Now I am not just responsible for me, I am responsible for a K-9 officer too."

Her successes in both coaching and law enforcement are almost too many to count. As a coach at Branford, she has led the Hornets to back-to-back Class M State Championships in 2017 and 2018 and has had a pair of her players go on to play at New Haven; Alicia Mortali (Branford, Conn./Branford) and Caitlin O'Brien (Branford, Conn./Branford)."I really credit my time at New Haven for everything I have accomplished," said Carney. "If it wasn't for my coaches instilling a love of lacrosse in me, then I wouldn't have started coaching in Branford and in turn, probably wouldn't have joined the police force in Branford."

On the job, Carney has had a major impact on the lives of those in Branford. During one call, she helped save the life of a resident, performing CPR until medics arrived. It wasn't until recently that she understood the impact she had when during a shift directing traffic, a car pulled up and a woman – the one she had saved - jumped out, running up and giving Carney a huge hug, thanking her for saving her life. Additionally, Carney was recently honored with an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for going above and beyond in the battle to curve driving under the influence.

"I try to have a positive impact on everyone I meet," said Carney. "Whether it is someone I am counseling through a situation or someone I am arresting, I want to make sure they understand that I am here to help them in whatever way they need."

What's next for the former Charger? "Maybe I'll have an opportunity to teach at New Haven!" she exclaimed. During her time on the force in Branford, she has served as a field training officer where she is responsible for training new recruits as they come out of the academy. "Right now, I am focused on continue to train Arrow and making sure we are the best at what we do," said Carney.

-Story provided by New Haven athletic communications staff-

The NE10 is an association of 15 diverse institutions serving student-athletes across 24 NCAA Division II sports. Together we build brilliant futures by embracing the journey of every student-athlete. 

Each year, 4,500 student-athletes compete in conference championships, making the NE10 the largest DII conference in the country in terms of sport sponsorship. Leading the way in the classroom, on the field and within the community, the NE10 is proud of its comprehensive program and the experience it provides student-athletes.