MANATEE -- No one knew what to do.
Cheyenne Bixby, 4, was so terrified of sitting on Santa Claus' lap, or even being within 5 feet of the bearded one, that she cried in great big gasps Tuesday night and refused to even look his way at Toys R Us on Cortez Road.
Neither her godparents, Steve and Patti Johnson, nor her aunt, Amber Bixby, could convince Cheyenne to even run past Santa into the store to get a toy.
Deputy Chief Warren Merriman of the Bradenton Police Department then knelt down and said to Cheyenne: "I will protect you."
His reassuring voice and
perfectly pressed police uniform convinced the youngster to let Merriman crouch like a football lineman and crab-walk her past a heavily padded Kenny Langston.
Cheyenne's family was amazed at the power of the badge. Merriman, too.
"That's the first time I ever protected a child from Santa," Merriman said.
For Merriman and roughly 80 other Bradenton Police Department officers and civilian staff, doing whatever it took Tuesday to make a child happy was what the sixth annual Honor the Badge was all about.
Bradenton Police Department personnel work with Kingdom Life Christian Church, 825 9th St. W., to invite needy children from the church neighborhood to the Honor the Badge event where they take them by the hand and help them shop at Toys R Us.
The Rev. Don Sturiano, church pastor and the police department chaplain, begins every Honor the Badge by bellowing the question: "Are you ready for Christmas!"
The children in return, yell "Yes," and learn the police officer holding their hand is someone who cares, said Bradenton Chief Michael Radzilowski.
This year, 140 needy children received $25 gift cards at Honor the Badge -- roughly $3,500 in donations -- to buy the toy of their dreams.
"Sometimes we come up short at the cash register, but we all pitch in, especially Chief Radzilowski," Merriman said. "He doesn't talk about it, but there are kids who show up who aren't on the list and he pays for them."
Tuesday was extra special for 140 children and one adult.
Capt. Darrell Akeman participated in his final Honor the Badge since he is retiring Dec. 31 after 25 years of service.
"It's a bittersweet night," an emotional Akeman said. "It's been a great ride. I found a career and a career found me. You have to like people to be in this business, and I do."
Akemon showed his caring side as he helped Jamar and Cleydiane Rodriguez and their brother, Johnsiel Berdecia, find toys.
So, what was the final toy in his Honor the Badge career? Fate, it seems, has a sense of humor.
If you guessed, the video game, "Grand Theft Auto," you would be right.
"Are you sure your mom will be OK with this?" Akemon asked Johnsiel.
Although Johnsiel nodded "yes," Akemon didn't put it in the cart until approved by the boy's mother.
The unofficial award for happiest child went to Bradenton's Brandon Davis, 8, who got a remote-controlled fire engine.
"It's got a ladder and lights and a siren," said a thrilled Brandon, who attends Ballard Elementary School.
Gwendolyn Jackson, Brandon's grandmother, was also thrilled. "We are so grateful," she said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.