It was 30 years ago this December that the Westport Police Department hired its first female officer. Today, the department swore in its tenth female patrolman.

Fairfield resident Ashley Del Vecchio, 21, was inducted in an afternoon ceremony that took place in a second floor classroom at the 50 Jesup Road police headquarters. In attendance was family, friends, police officers from both Fairfield and Westport, EMS, fire department officials and Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff. Del Vecchio's addition, filling the last vacancy in the Westport department created by retirements in 2009, brings the force to full strength: 68 officers.

With regard to the induction, Del Vecchio was experiencing a whole range of emotions. Outwardly, though, she appeared quite composed and professional, beaming in a crisp navy blue suit jacket and slacks. "This is unbelievable ... everything I've worked really hard for. It's just starting to hit me now. Nervousness, excitement. It's the beginning of the rest of my life."

Del Vecchio is a 2007 graduate of Fairfield Warde High School and a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) majoring in sociology with a minor in criminal justice. She played field hockey and lacrosse throughout high school and college and was named National Student Athlete in her junior year at ECSU. She interned with the Fairfield Police Department during the summer of 2009 and 2010.

"I'd always had positive experiences with police officers ... and was always on sports teams. There are parallels between the force and sports in terms of physical fitness and team spirit, and this was attractive," explained the new recruit about how she chose this path.

"We're very proud of her," said mom Cheryl, who handles public relations at Fairfield Woods Branch Library. "She really worked years to get here and this is definitely what she wanted to do. I know she's going to be a really good police officer."

Del Vecchio's dad, Al, had applied to the force back in 1977, but ended up pursuing a career in real estate. He was proud that Ashley had achieved her dream and distinguished herself.

"I'm amazed as there were 525 applicants. Two candidates were hired in Fairfield and one in Westport. I don't think my experience was an influence -- it was really something in her own make-up."

Fairfield Police Lt. Jim Perez, who supervised her internships, knew from the start she was a standout. "She had this enthusiasm and drive to want to learn every aspect of law enforcement. The experience she got gave her a real grassroots picture of policing today. I can't say enough about her. She's got all the right ingredients."

Sisters Lynn Hauser, 29, and Cara Del Vecchio, 23, were equally complimentary.

"She's very accomplished, motivated and determined," said Hauser.

"She really did it all herself, while working a job and going to school. She never freaked out!" added Cara.

Following a brief video that provided a historical overview of the department and welcome message to Del Vecchio, Westport Police Chief Alfred Fiore commended her on getting through the application process. "It's a tough job to become a cop today. You have to go through a lot. We lose half the people at the tail end of the exam process. It's a credit to you to be here."

Fiore noted that she will attend the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden for the next 5 and-a-half months, then spend 400 hours training with patrol officers. On the heels of Fiore's remarks, Joseloff administered the swearing in, saying, "Westporters appreciate the job our first responders do, especially in these times."

Public Safety Officer Linda Vena, the first female officer hired by the department, said the ceremony made her reflect on her own experience. "I never thought I'd last 30 years, but I've worked with a bunch of great officers. I wish Ashley the same fulfilling experience that I've had."