The smallest police chief, five-year-old James Neel gets the chance to live out a dream
Burleson had a new police chief last Friday, but his reign only lasted until that afternoon when he had to get back to his kindergarten math class.
Five-year-old James Neel got the chance to be police chief for a day after his parents won the experience at an auction that benefitted James’s school, the Academy at Nola Dunn.
“They were so patient,” James’s mom Laura Neel said. “They made that day absolutely amazing for him.”
James got the VIP treatment, including everything from a goody bag with real handcuffs, a badge and a teddy bear that James named Chief Cuddly, to a tour with Chief Billy Cordell.
“I expected that he would hand us off to someone else, but no,” Laura said. “He spent all the time with us. I said, ‘You know, it’s okay if you go do something else. I get that you probably have other things to do.’ He said, ‘There’s nothing more important than this. This is what it’s all about.’”
Laura said she didn’t know what to expect, but everyone involved far exceeded any expectations.
“I didn’t even tell my husband to take off work,” she said. “I called him when it was over and said, ‘You missed it.’”
James’s uniform, complete with Chief Cordell’s own two stars, was waiting for him when he arrived, along with the community resource officer ready to show James the car.
“It was planned out,” Laura said. “They weren’t just like, ‘There’s a kid coming in today. Whatever happens, happens.’ All the thought that went into it was amazing. They decided ‘This is something we’re going to do, and we aren’t just going to halfway do it. We’re going to make it amazing for this kid.’”
James got to turn on the sirens and lights, see interrogation rooms and even rode in the new SWAT car (known as the Bearcat) before Chief Cordell got to. But James wasn’t the only one that got a surprise.
“The minute we got home [from the auction], James made a goody bag for Chief Cordell, because James is a giver,” Laura said. “It had Play-Doh and little sticks. One of the sticks was him and one was Chief Cordell, and several were other police officers.”
In addition to the lights and sirens, James got to talk through the loud speaker on the car.
“As they were pulling up, James yelled, “I love you, Mommy! Now put your hands up,’” Laura said.
Laura said that as James would walk by, everyone would stand up from their desks, shake his hand, and say, “Hey, Chief.”
“They made it really special for him, and they didn’t have to,” Laura said. “I mean, they were all working, and I know that the chief of police has other things to do, but he cleared his schedule for that time, and there was nothing that you could do to get him to do anything else. It was really cool.”
James has always wanted to be a police officer when he grows up, and he got his first police uniform when he was three and learned 50 sight words.
“I made him a deal that I would get him a police uniform if he could learn the sight words, and he learned them before the suit even came in,” Laura said. “He’s always been really interested in police officers, and he finally got to see what they do. He saw every last part.”
On Laura’s way to drop off the other kids at school, James pointed at the police station and said, “I’m working there this morning. You might as well drop me off.” James said he will be the real chief of police in 28 years.
“[Chief Cordell] is better than anybody,” James said. “He’s my buddy. He told me I could come back anytime.”