Decked out in all his Orange County Sheriff’s Department swag, Robert Tait was a happy young man.
On this day, the 27-year-old, who has suffered from cerebral palsy since birth and must be strapped to a wheelchair, was the newest member of the force.
The smile on his face said more than words could express.
“He’s non-verbal, but he smiles and blows kisses,” said Jeffrey Tait, Robert’s father. “When he sticks out his tongue, it means ‘yes.’”
Before receiving a guided tour of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department headquarters in Santa Ana, Robert was deputized for the day by Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who is retiring later this year after 10 years at the helm of the fifth-largest sheriff’s department in the country.
Although her days of swearing in deputies will soon end, she was happy to conduct this one.
“It just makes my day,” Hutchens said of the impromptu ceremony in her office. “Robert wants to be a law enforcement officer when he grows up.”
Undersheriff Don Barnes said he set up the ceremony after meeting the Taits about a month-and-a-half ago at a meeting of the Orange County Gun Owners.
Jeffrey Tait, who said “Cops” is his son’s favorite show, asked Barnes about a visit for his son, hoping for a quick meet-and-greet. He never expected the VIP treatment that was offered.
At the meeting with the sheriff, Robert scored a sheriff’s hat, a badge, patch, and model police cruiser. Officers later gave him a T-shirt and said he could expect a “North Ops” baseball cap with his name monogramed on the back in a couple of weeks.
The Taits were also introduced to deputies and staff and given a behind-the-scenes tour of the operations center, the motor fleet lot, and the garage, where they were able to view the department’s award-winning SUV cruiser.
The highlight for Robert, judging from his smile, was the chance to meet K9s Chavo and Wolf and their handlers.
Robert Tait seemed particularly excited when Deputy Pablo Alvarez and the Dutch shepherd engaged in a spirited game of tug-of-war with a rope toy, concluding with Chavo being spun around in the air while hanging onto the rope with his teeth.
Asked about the tour, Barnes said the department sets them up whenever it can.
“Every opportunity we get,” he said. “Too many to count but never enough. I think the staff gets more pleasure from it than the families.”
By the look on Robert Tait’s face, particularly when Chavo and Alvarez, engaged in a game of tug of war, with the dog being swung in the air in circles while gripping a rope toy with his teeth.
“Just as a family it’s such a thrill to come and see all this,” said Mary Elizabeth Tait, Robert’s mother.
“It wasn’t anything we knew would be possible,” she said. “We just thought it would be a quick in and out. This was the grand tour.”
As Jeffrey Tait buckled his son in their van and prepared for the trip back to their Fullerton home, he took a moment to reflect on the day.
“It was wonderful for Robert, he’s always been into law enforcement,” he said.
Jeffrey Tait said although his son can’t speak, he understands what’s being said and asked of him.
So, Jeffrey Tait said, whenever he asks his son if he wants to be a cop when he grows up, Robert responds by sticking out his tongue and giving his parents a huge smile.