Redmond boy to become police chief for a day
By SAMANTHA PAK
Redmond Reporter Reporter
August 10, 2012 · Updated 2:10 PM
Next week, there will be a new police chief in town — at least for the day.
On Thursday, Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson will step aside to make way for 11-year-old Jason Richards as part of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission's (WSCJTC) "Chief for a Day" program.
The program honors children who have been diagnosed with a chronic illness by giving them the opportunity to be chief or sheriff — usually of their local police agency — for an entire day.
Jason, whose family lives in Redmond's Education Hill neighborhood, will be among 27 children from all over Washington who will be transported by a police motorcade from CenturyLink Field in Seattle to the WSCJTC headquarters in Burien. In addition, each child will receive a hand-tailored uniform from thier sponsoring agency and be sworn in as chief or sheriff for the day. The day's event will also feature a pony carousel, police K-9 teams, bounce houses, taser demonstrations, a U.S. Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter and other police vehicles.
"(The kids) can crawl all over the police cars," Gibson said.
He added that Chief for a Day is what "being a cop is all about" — giving back to others, making them smile and feel better and in this case, giving kids something to think about other than their illness.
A TROUBLED HEART
Jason was born with a number of heart defects as a result of Holt-Oram syndrome, a disorder that affects bones in the arms and hands and may cause heart problems. He had his first heart surgery when he was seven days old, according to his mother Janet Richards, and underwent three more procedures before he turned 4.
Janet said these procedures rerouted his blood vessels so oxygen could be delivered throughout his body and were meant to last 20 to 25 years. At that point, they knew Jason would probably need a new heart, she said.
But in April 2011, at the age of 10, Jason's heart began to give out on him.
"Literally just one day, he was fine and the next day, he was very lethargic and wanted to sleep," Janet said. "It was very obvious he was very sick."
She said a sure sign that something was wrong was when Jason passed on playing video games, one of his favorite hobbies.
The cardiology team at Seattle Children's Hospital performed a cardiac catheterization procedure to see what was wrong, but Jason went into cardiac arrest in the middle of the procedure and came "very close to dying," Janet said. This also resulted in a few strokes, which paralyzed the left side of Jason's body.
Janet said her son has made amazing progress and has relearned to walk.
Despite this, Jason's health is still shaky: He has been in and out of the hospital up until February of this year due to seizures, neurological issues and more and now wears a medical pump on his back with an IV that helps his heart work while he waits for a heart transplant. Janet's parents from North Carolina have also moved in with them and her father tutors Jason as his health prevents him from attending school. Before this, Jason had been attending Horace Mann Elementary School.
A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT
Thursday's Chief for a Day event is just one aspect of the program. Before this culminating event, which happens every two years, officers from participating agencies spend a year with the children and their families. From helping with groceries to hanging out with the children at home to visiting them in the hospital, the officers are there for the children and their families in whatever capacity they're needed.
"It's one of the best things of being an officer," said Redmond officer Jon Barnett (above, right), who has participated in the program since 2006. "It's one of the most rewarding things I've done as a police officer in 10 years."
Jason has enjoyed his time with Barnett during the past year as well.
"It's been good," he said.
The two have spent a lot of time playing various video games and Jason even received a flatscreen TV from Barnett and the RPD so he can enjoy his hobby in his room.
Barnett said although Chief for a Day is a one-year program for the children, it goes beyond that for him as he plans to visit with Jason and his family after this as well.
"I still keep in contact with our past 'chiefs,'" he said of his commitment to the kids he meets.
Through his time with Barnett, Jason has seen the inside of a squad car, met Redmond's police dog Vadar and said he has learned a lot of different things about being a police officer.
This knowledge has Gibson, who has met Jason a couple of times, a little worried about his job security and future with RPD.
"Jason is a sharp little guy," Gibson said. "I might have a challenge on my hands."
But it appears that he doesn't have much to worry about yet as Jason has other plans for his future.
"I want to be an artist and a drummer," he said.Contact Redmond Reporter Reporter Samantha Pak at email@example.com or 425-867-0353, ext. 5052.