The Youngest Sergeant in the Police Department
FAIRFIELD, CT– Cameron Yates was just 4-years-old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Doctors told him that he was lucky that his treatments would most likely be successful. But as a child it was the police officers in his life that made him feel like the luckiest kid ever.
For years Cameron had to undergo chemotherapy treatments, and his immune system was too vulnerable to go out in public.
One of his neighbors that worked at a local police department mentioned his story, and his obsession with cops, and soon Cameron started getting regular visits from officers.
At one point Cameron was even given what he called “the best gift I’d receive” a police uniform. The young boy was sworn in at the station as an honorary sergeant as a surprise, and the following year he was announced at a parade as, “the youngest Sergeant in the department.”
For “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day,” Cameron wanted to thank the officers who kept his spirits up when he was sick, and to remind people of the good that police do amid all the negative press officers have gotten lately.
To hear all the amazing details you’ll have to read the story as Cameron tells it below:
The Youngest Sergeant in the Police Department
By Cameron Yates
From a very young age, I was taught that I could always trust a police officer if I ever needed help. But when I was four years old, I didn’t just trust police officers, I idolized them. I was obsessed with all things law enforcement, and I wanted nothing more than to be a cop.
In the summer of 2000, a few months before my fifth birthday, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. The doctor told my parents that I was lucky, because this cancer was very common in kids, and the treatment would most likely be successful. But unless you were a pediatric oncologist, it was difficult to consider me lucky; over the next two years, I would undergo surgery to have a ‘port’ installed in my chest so that chemotherapy could be administered to my bloodstream; I would spend several weekends at Yale New Haven Hospital receiving treatment; I would miss much of my Kindergarten Year at Sherman School; I would have to stay inside most of the time, because my immune system was often too vulnerable to go out in public, and I often couldn’t even play on the swing set that was given to me through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As I said, most people would not have considered me to be very lucky at that point in my life. But thanks to the Fairfield Police Department, I didn’t really have a chance to notice all the bad things that were happening to me.
At the time of my diagnosis, our neighbor, Maureen Janda, was secretary to Fairfield Police Captain Dave Peck. She told Captain Peck about my obsession with the police, and he passed the story along to Chief Joe Sambrook. Upon hearing of my illness, Chief Sambrook began doing just about everything he possibly could to involve the Police Department in my life. Patrol officers started visiting my house almost every day. Some of them – Officers Bill Demotses and Jim Cheuka – would arrive on their Harley police motorcycles – others came in patrol cars or on bikes. No matter the vehicle, though, I always got to play with the lights and sirens. I’m sure it must have been bothersome for our neighbors to endure half an hour of police sirens every single day, but nothing could have made me happier. On these visits, the officers usually spent close to an hour with me, sometimes showing me how to use a radar gun, or how to set up police tape around a ‘crime scene’ between the trees in my front yard. Sometimes, they even brought me gifts, like a collection of police patches from each department in the area, or model police cars.
One day, Officer Demotses came to the door with Chief Sambrook’s secretary, Kathy, and gave me the best gift I’d receive from the police department – a full FPD uniform and motorcycle helmet. Kathy had bought a Boy Scout uniform in my size and had all the police patches sewn on. When she left that evening, she invited me and my family to an upcoming meeting at the Police Department, and told me to come in uniform.
When we arrived at the Police Department a few nights later for the meeting, my family and I were brought upstairs to a room with a long conference table. Chief Sambrook was sitting at the near end of the table, and around the table sat each member of the Fairfield Board of Police Commissioners. Expecting to stand quietly to the side while this meeting took place, I was surprised when the Chief asked me to come to the head of the table. He told me to place my hand over my heart, and repeat his words. I repeated after him what I would later learn was the police oath, to protect and serve…and at four years old, I was ‘sworn in’ as an honorary Sergeant in front of the entire Fairfield Police Commission. At the end of the oath, everyone applauded, and Chief Sambrook saluted me. From that day on, any time I said the Pledge of Allegiance or heard the National Anthem in school, I did not put my hand over my heart like the other kids in my class, but saluted as a police officer would.
The following spring, Chief Sambrook invited me to ride with him in the Fairfield Memorial Day Parade. For several days leading up to the parade, I was completely beside myself. The police department would be leading the procession, and the Chief and I would be right at the front in his vintage Chevrolet police car. I woke up early on the day of the parade and put on my uniform before I even ate breakfast. About an hour before the parade, Lieutenant Chris Lyddy picked me up in his unmarked cruiser and drove me to meet Chief Sambrook downtown. As Chief Sambrook and I rode along the parade route, we waved at spectators with the siren blaring in the background. Each time we passed a police officer standing along the parade route, the Chief would salute. I quickly picked up on this and began to do the same. When we passed the grandstand in front of Town Hall, I heard the announcer say, ‘Here comes the Fairfield Police Department, led by Chief Joe Sambrook and the youngest Sergeant in the department, Cameron Yates.’ He made no mention of my illness, and for the rest of the day I would be too elated to think of it.
Going forward, I rode in the parade with Chief Sambrook every year until his retirement, and then with Dave Peck, who replaced him as Chief, for a few more years. Over the course of my treatment, I met too many police officers to count. I had my hands on every type of police vehicle, including cars, motorcycles, the patrol boat and the helicopter, Eagle One. I got to ride in the Memorial Day Parade several years in a row, and even got a surprise visit from Chief Sambrook, in his police car, at my fifth birthday party. While it was hard for most people to consider me – a four-year-old being treated for leukemia – lucky, I certainly saw things differently. The Fairfield Police Department allowed me, for a little part of each day, to forget how sick I was and consider myself a very lucky boy.
I share this story both to thank the men and women of the Fairfield Police Department for all they did for me when I was sick, and to offer anyone who reads it a different perspective on law enforcement than the one being shown in the news recently. Though I am no longer mesmerized by police lights and sirens like I was at four years old, there is still a part of me that wants to be a cop, in the hope that I might change someone’s life in the way the Fairfield Police Department changed mine. Though we don’t always think about them, police officers are working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, on holidays, and even during hurricanes and snowstorms, to keep us safe. They put their lives at risk every single day in order to do their jobs, and sometimes, as was the case when I was diagnosed with leukemia, they go above and beyond the call of duty to serve their communities.