Sweltering heat couldn’t stop Jace McKenzie from sporting his brand new policeman costume as his family celebrated his sixth birthday at Sixth Street Beach in Greenport Monday.
Suddenly, Jace heard the sounds of sirens coming down the block and he watched in amazement as a caravan of Southold police vehicles pulled up to his birthday party. Waving and jumping up and down in excitement, Jace raced over to the officers as they exited their squad cars.
“I love police!” he exclaimed before jumping into the arms of an officer.
“He was so overjoyed,” his mother, Tai, recalled Tuesday. “He’s completely obsessed.”
The low-key birthday celebration turned out to be one Jace will never forget.
His aunt, Tiffany McKenzie, described her nephew as full of enthusiasm — and easy to shop for on holidays and birthdays, since it’s always a police-themed toy he prefers. His ultimate goal, family members explained, is to one day become a police officer and help people.
It all began when his great aunt reached out to officer Richard Buonaiuto and told them about Jace’s celebration.
“We thought it’d be cool if a couple officers came down and showed him some love,” Ms. McKenzie said.
In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Buonaiuto said that when he received the call, he rounded up three more officers who were in the area. In his 15 years on the force, he said he’s found the most rewarding part of his job is involvement in the school resource officer post and anything involving the community.
“We believe building positive relationships with the youth is extremely important,” he said.
The group of officers presented Jace with a special badge and distributed bracelets to other kids in the group.
For the adults present, Jace’s unbridled joy marked a powerful moment as protests nationwide continue over police brutality.
“With what’s going on today in the world, people need to see that there’s good out there,” Tiffany said. “I was in tears. Kids don’t have prejudice toward anyone. They’re taught.”
Though injustices must be addressed, Tai McKenzie said her message is simple: love conquers all. “My job as a parent is to encourage whatever road he’s trying to take,” she said. “Why would I rob him of his innocence?”
She thanked the Southold officers for stopping by. “They embraced us completely and made his day,” she said.
Mr. Buonaiuto said it made his day, too.
“It feels good when you go home after work — and you realize you made a difference in someone’s life.”