Detroit police have new chief, even if just for a day

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — In his 7 years, Rodney Burton has battled more than many adults have their entire lives.

At birth, Rodney was diagnosed with sickle cell disease and last year his family learned that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer.

The two life-threatening illnesses have required Rodney to be in and out the hospital for surgeries and blood transfusions.

But on Wednesday, the Detroit Police Department showed Rodney his dream of being a police officer could still come true.

The department named him Chief for the Day — a job that came with many perks including a uniform, helicopter ride over Detroit, tours of fire trucks and police motorcycles and a chance to hang out with Police Chief James Craig.

As Rodney stepped off the helicopter on the front lawn of the police headquarters he saluted Craig and moments later shouted “I’m the chief for the day!”

When asked why he always wanted to be a police officer Rodney said: “I want to help people and I want the city to be protected.”

Rodney, a second-grader at David Ellis Academy, shook hands with officers and sat on motorcycles with his younger sister before he was led inside the headquarters to be officially sworn in.

Craig said he met Rodney when he visited him in the hospital in April and asked him if he wanted to be chief for a day.

Without hesitation, Rodney accepted, Craig said.

The Police Department has worked with many children battling illness in Children’s Hospital of Michigan, he said.

“This is a young man who is courageous, who is suffering from an illness,” Craig said. “And to be able to give and fulfill a dream certainly brings some brightness to his life.”

Rodney’s mother, Johnai Evans, said Rodney’s journey has been rough.

He was able to beat the cancer, Evans said, but doctors tell the family Rodney will need blood transfusions for the sickle cell disease his entire life.

Evans said she has faith Rodney will overcome the sickness.

“I hope that people will see his strength and know that he’s just a small child that has been through so much,” she said. “But through the grace of God, he’s able to wake up every day with a smile on his face, no matter what pain he may be in.”

Rodney’s grandmother, Cynthia Johnson-Lawrence, traveled from Kentucky for the special day. She said Rodney has always enjoyed dressing up as a police officer and wants to be famous.

“It’s a blessing; it touches us,” Johnson-Lawrence said. “We just keep on praying that he can still live a long life.”