Last month I was researching something and I went to Wikipedia. There on the front page was one of their articles about some random thing. These random items can be about the Fall of Constantinople, mercury in seafood, Elizabeth Taylor's biography, you name it. This one was on the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants "wishes" to kids with critical diseases. I clicked on it because we often cover kids' wishes and law enforcement officers making them true. So I wanted to know more about the organization. And you may know already what I found out: Make-A-Wish was started by cops.
Back in 1980, 7-year-old Christopher James Greicius was a leukemia patient, and he wanted to be a law enforcement officer. He made the acquaintance of U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin, and Austin decided that he was going to make the little boy's dream come true. Working with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Customs Officer Austin arranged for Greicius to spend the day as a police officer. The boy was presented with a tailored uniform, was sworn in as an honorary DPS officer, rode in a police helicopter, and generally had a great day. Sadly, Greicius lost his fight with the cancer shortly after his "wish" came true.
But from that uplifting and sad story the Make-A-Wish Foundation was born. And to this day law enforcement agencies are often involved in helping the Foundation give kids with critical diseases one good day.
American law enforcement has a long history of involvement in activities that provide services for children, not just through Make-A-Wish but through so much more. Police athletic leagues provide sports programs for kids (including me back in the early 1970s when I played youth baseball). The Law Enforcement Torch Run has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Special Olympics. And then there are the individual agencies and individual officers who are all the time doing things for kids in their communities. You do a lot for our youngest citizens, and much of it goes unsung because many of you are uncomfortable with promoting your own good works.
Still, a lot of it shows up on social media either posted by the parents of the kids you helped or somebody in your agency. And then these stories end up on PoliceMag.com. Which is why we have the keyword tag: Police and Kids.
Here are a few more related stories regarding police and kids:
* The West Point (MS) Police Department purchased thousands of Halloween costumes for kids whose families could not afford to outfit them for the holiday.
* Toledo SWAT officers dressed up like superheroes and rappelled down the side of a local children's hospital. Once they were on the ground, they went inside the hospital still in costume and hung out with the kids. This is an annual event.
* When a 5-year-old boy called 911 in Mesa, AZ, and asked for a McDonald's Happy Meal, a Mesa police officer made the delivery. The boy hung up the phone while speaking with 911. The 911 operator called the parents who were unaware of what the boy had done. Then an officer was sent to check the child's welfare. On the way over he stopped at McDonald's to fill the child's order.
* At Christmas, officers from 10 Massachusetts' agencies brought gifts to a 4-year-old whose mother had been murdered the month before.
* The Memphis Police Department made a local 3-year-old heart patient an honorary police officer.
* An Arkansas school resource officer escorted an 8-year-old girl whose father had recently died to the father-daughter dance at the school. The officer and five fathers in the school even rented a limousine to take the girl to the dance.
Law enforcement officers tend to have a rough and tough reputation and many of you try to live up to it. But that tough guy persona rarely survives contact with a sick or grieving child. If you want to see a police chief cry, go watch the video of Raymond Garivey, chief of the Freeport (TX) Police Department, swearing in 6-year-old cancer patient Abigail Arias as an honorary police officer. Sadly, 7-year-old Arias died late last year when she lost her fight against the tumors that she called "the bad guys."
Most of you are familiar with the metaphor of law enforcement officers as "sheepdogs" guarding the flock against predators. I believe that's who the best police officers truly want to be. And I believe those officers have a special guardian relationship with the youngest and most innocent members of the flock.
Unfortunately, some of the propaganda of those who want to bring you down tries to chip away at that relationship. During the turmoil over a recent controversial officer-involved shooting in a major American city, a little girl was filmed by local media crying—tears streaming down her face—because she was scared of police officers.
What a horrible thing. Somebody made her afraid of the men and women who would lay down their lives to protect her.
I know you don't like promoting your good works. You are humble and don't want to toot your own horns. But you and your agencies have to get the stories of your work to help kids out to the public…For the sake of that crying little girl and all the children like her.
David Griffith is editor of POLICE/PoliceMag.com.