In the eyes of 5-year-old Matthew Pickett, police officers are "the good guys." While they may have flashing red and blue lights on their cruisers, loud sirens and shiny intimidating badges, the police have become an idol for this little Woodstock resident who has taken traffic direction into his own hands along his neighborhood street.
After a long day at camp earlier this summer, Matthew returned home with his mom, Lori Pickett, and 6-year-old brother, Hunter, and ran inside to get his black SWAT jacket. If the bold white letters didn't immediately inform everyone of Matthew's title, his three golden police badges were worn for backup, one pinned to his lower left chest pocket reading "Junior Police: Howard County Police Department."
Matthew has continued to direct traffic from his front yard over the past couple of months, Lori Pickett said, as he sat diligently in the driver's seat of his mini battery-powered Dodge City police cruiser and waited for speeding homeowners to drive by.
Starting the cruiser's engine with the press of a button, Matthew floored it out of the family's garage, sounding the sirens and "communicating" with other officers on the radio.
"That's me talking on the radio," Matthew said, his voice echoing in the car's speakers.
Sometimes, he even writes tickets in his little booklet tucked away in his jacket pocket.
"After a storm we had [in June], Matthew had seen the police directing traffic up at an intersection because the light was out," his mother said. "He came home and I had him outside for playtime and that's what he did. He parked his car, went out, started blowing his whistle and directing traffic."
As tensions remain high between police and communities throughout the nation, Pickett said she wanted to let the Howard County Police Department know that their service in the county does not go unnoticed, no matter the age group. The mother of two informed the department of Matthew's service, sending them a picture of her son directing traffic in late June.
Pickett said she told the Police Department, "With all the negativity that was going on, you still have people who look up to you guys.""The lady I was corresponding with
A police spokeswoman told Pickett to bring her son into the Police Department "any time." They were just so nice to him."
During Matthew's visit to the department on July 22, a grin never left his face, his mother said, which lit up when he was greeted by Lt. William Porter with balloons and a goodie bag filled with a police officer toy, a flashlight, a traffic baton and his very own junior officer badge.
Porter and Sgt. Bradley Cornwell, together with department spokeswoman Lori Boone, gave Matthew a tour of the department facilities, later surprising him in the parking lot with an opportunity to sit in a police cruiser.
"I was very lucky to be here when he came in the other day. It was great to be a part of that," Porter said. "One of my sergeants was working and he had his car ready for us. [Matthew] sat in the driver's seat and was able to turn the sirens on and turn the lights on. It was a nice experience for both of us."
Matthew said his favorite part of the trip was operating the gadgets and gizmos inside the police car.
Porter, a 22-year Howard police veteran, said Matthew's interest and fondness of police demonstrates the type of relationship the department strives to create with the community. The 5-year-old also reminded Porter of his own children, who are now grown up, as well as an experience in his early days as an officer.
"When I first started, there was a little boy named Nicholas who lived in the neighborhood close by," Porter said. "His mom would bring him over and I'd see him out in the parking lot and do pretty much the same thing that I did with Matthew."
Back outside the Pickett home, smiling drivers waved to the block's new officer in between the short bursts of sound from Matthew's tiny whistle. A two-way radio hung loosely from Matthew's left shoulder, gently tapping against a tie clip he received weeks before after a spur-of-the-moment encounter with a Baltimore City police officer at an Oriole baseball game.
"I said, 'Matty, you can say hi,' and the officer was just so cool," his mother said. "He was so kind. He took a picture with him and he even gave him his tie clip right off of his uniform. I think that really made a big impression on Matthew."
But when Matthew isn't writing warnings or speeding tickets, Pickett said he is facing a battle of his own: cyclic vomiting syndrome. Often referred to as CVS, she said the cause of the disorder remains unknown in the medical community, with symptoms including severe bouts of nausea and vomiting that can last from days to weeks.
Matthew suffers these episodes every three or four months, Pickett said, when he must go to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to restore his lost fluids. He has also attended physical therapy since he was 8 months old.
"He likes to have control and his therapist always told me that kids who can't control when they walk or when they crawl – because he really had to work for all those things – they say that they gain this attitude of wanting to be in charge of everything else," Pickett said. "You'd never know it looking at him. He's a little bit on the small side, but other than that, he's a character."
The visit to the Howard Police Department strengthened Matthew's interests, including his construction of a Lego city in the family's living room, consisting of police and fire department operations.
While Matthew was disappointed he didn't get to see where police "keep the bad guys," Pickett said the generosity and support of the local police was amazing.
"To be able to go to a police station and do all that was just beyond anything, beyond my expectations," Pickett said. "I see Matthew go through so much stuff, so as a mom, they were so good to him."
Porter said Matthew's visit also made his day, especially knowing the 5-year-old boy may have a future with the Howard County Police Department
"I'm curious as to where Matthew will end up," Porter said. "Who knows in 15 or 20 years whether he'll be one of us with the Police Department or another agency. But, I think it's awesome that he is so inspired and enamored by what we do because we do try to make a difference."