More than 5.5 million views and thousands of comments.
The viral Facebook photo of Westminster Officer Mike Gradilla posing with a little boy dressed as an officer has gone international.
It hit in Cosmopolitan and People magazines, landed in publications in Thailand, Mexico and Australia and was on several major local television stations and Inside Edition.
The mainstream media gave Gradilla, 26, the nickname “hot cop” — which his peers likely will rib him about for many years to come.
There are worse nicknames, Gradilla acknowledged, but it still feels uncomfortable for the humble patrol cop.
A week later, the viral post is still a hot topic.
People continue to call the station asking to speak with Gradilla, members of the media want to go on ride-alongs and the Steve Harvey Show has put in an interview request.
When Gradilla looks at all the attention the post has amassed, he can’t help but be a little disappointed.
“It seemed that everyone kind of missed the real message,” Gradilla said. “We want people to trust us, we want people to like us. I want to gain that trust, especially in this tough time for law enforcement.”
“We’re here because we chose to uphold the badge and truly serve people.”
Service is how all of this started in the first place.
It was not a publicity stunt or a staged meeting. Gradilla simply responded to a request from a local family.
Gradilla’s Friday shift didn’t start out particularly great.
Nothing major occurred, it had just been a busy, stress-filled shift.
His sergeant told him a little boy wanted to meet a police officer and asked if Gradilla would go see him.
Of course he would.
When Gradilla climbed the stairs of the apartment complex, he saw 3-year-old Tayden Nguyen at the top, his arms outstretched for a hug.
“It was adorable,” Gradilla said. “I picked him up and he gave me the biggest, strongest hug a 3-year-old could possibly give.”
Nguyen’s family said they called Westminster PD after Tayden had a rough week at preschool.
The toddler loves the police and frequently dresses in uniform to watch cop videos on YouTube.
Gradilla said he saw a bit of himself in Tayden — a kid enamored with law enforcement from a very young age.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a cop,” he said.
Gradilla is one of three police officers in his family and is one of 10 siblings. His younger brother is in his rookie year with Westminster PD and his elder brother works for Los Angeles PD.
When not on patrol, Gradilla coaches with the Westminster Police Officer’s Association Hoops league at the Boys & Girls Club and also coaches high school football and track.
It may sound trite, but it also happens to be true: Gradilla simply likes to help people.
That’s why he met with Tayden, and he is grateful he did.
“I drove away from there just bragging about my encounter with him,” Gradilla said. “Tayden thought he was the lucky one, but I was the lucky one that day.”
The photos were posted early Saturday morning and, as of Monday, had more than 17,000 shares, 68,000 likes and nearly 5,000 comments.
The likes on the Westminster Police Department’s page also nearly doubled.
“I think any person would be flattered, but I’m just keeping myself grounded and staying humble about it,” Gradilla said. “I’m very fortunate to be in the profession I’m in.”
Social media outreach
Westminster PD in recent years has put a concerted effort into its social media as a way to engage with the community.
Daily content includes posts that help community to get to know the officers and civilians who serve them, safety and traffic alerts, and updates on the good work by the department.
WPD highlights officers on their Facebook page for various reasons.
An officer who rescued a stranded motorist, another who helped a local homeless man and several who coach basketball for at-risk kids after a 12-hour graveyard shift are among some of the posts.
Gradilla has been recognized on the department’s Facebook page before, but it never blew up like this, he said.
“I don’t even know what happened,” Gradilla said. “I’m not sure what it is about this one that went crazy.”
In briefing before his shifts, his colleagues would check the post to see how much farther it had traveled and how much more attention it had garnered.
They would laugh, Gradilla would turn red, but it’s all in good fun.
“In this profession, if you’re not getting made fun of that means they don’t like you,” he said laughing. “I didn’t want my peers to think negatively of me, but everyone has been super supportive.”
After all the social media craze, Gradilla has tried to return to life as normal and stay focused on police work.
“I’m just an average-Joe guy,” he said. “I try to stay as balanced as possible, but I just really want that message to get out there: We’re human. We feel just like you do, we fear just like you do and we care just like you do.”
The responsibility that comes with being a cop is a hefty burden — some days more than others, Gradilla added.
“Wearing a badge means a lot more than everyone thinks,” he said. “The badge is heavier than just a few ounces of weight.”