CAVE SPRINGS -- Police Chief Rick Crisman, officer Scott Hammersla and Mayor Travis Lee gathered in Crisman's office Wednesday to welcome the newest member of the police force.
She's much shorter than the average recruit, and her chosen uniform for the day is a cherry red winter jacket and a sparkly unicorn T-shirt. Pinned to it is a junior police officer badge.
Isabella Johnson, 6, is on Christmas break. She introduces herself as Bella, shakes officers' hands and gives them each a blue bracelet in thanks for their service to the community. On the bracelets is a Bible verse.
"And I can say the whole thing," Isabella said. "'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God.'"
Isabella is the lead member of the Arkansas chapter of the Matthew 5:9 Project, which recognizes law enforcement officers by handing out rubber bracelets as a gesture of appreciation and prayer for their safety on the job.
"It's important to know, nice to know that people support us," Crisman said. "It recharges our batteries because we always see a lot of bad. It's tough to be a police officer right now; we've taken several black eyes. But it's nice to know there are still people out there who are good."
The Matthew 5:9 Project began in Alabama in July after the shooting of police officers in Dallas that killed five and injured nine in the line of duty.
Organization volunteers are provided with packets of 10 wristbands at a time at no expense, according to the nonprofit group's Facebook page. The organization doesn't mail wristbands directly to officers "to encourage positive interaction between our officers and the public they serve," the page states.
"It's sad that it takes a project" to show respect to the profession, said Brandon Johnson, Isabella's dad. "It honors family and friends who are officers."
The two don't have any police officers in the family, but they wanted a way to do good in the community. When Johnson's friend founded the project, he knew he wanted to help.
"I couldn't do this without [my dad] because he drives me everywhere," Isabella said, pushing away praise for her dedication to the project.
Crisman explains to Johnson the nature of being a police officer means doing important work, one that connects police officers.
"We all, being police officers, do the same job and know that. We're like brothers," Crisman said. "I wish more people would act like that, like brothers and sisters. I wish we had more kids like you."
A document available to volunteers encourages them to introduce themselves, say what's in their heart, tell the officer their service is appreciated and that they're praying for police officer safety.
Cave Springs is just one in a long line of departments Isabella has been to recently. She's visited Bella Vista, Gentry, Highfill, Lowell, Pea Ridge and Rogers and the Benton County sheriff's office. Tontitown, Elm Springs and other departments in Washington County are next.
"We plan on finishing the U.S." after this, Isabella said, to Brandon Johnson's shock.
"[Isabella] goes around to local agencies and hands out bracelets, visits the officers and goes on ride-alongs," said Cassi Lapp, communications director for Bella Vista.
Isabella visited the Bella Vista department a week ago. Photographs from the interaction show her touring the police station, checking out equipment in patrol vehicles and high-fiving officers.
In Isabella's hometown of Pea Ridge, police thanked her by inviting her to their Christmas banquet, where they made her a civilian junior police officer and let her ride in the police car and blast the horn during the Christmas parade. Another police department's officers ate lunch at her cafeteria table and picked her up from school in a squad car.
It made her the talk of first grade.
"Everybody at recess asked me 'Why were you eating with police officers?'" Isabella said, all smiles.
Cave Springs awarded her with junior police officer stickers.
"Now this is why we do what we do," Hammersla said.
"When we start to think that everybody's bad, this helps us remember that there are nice people in the world," Crisman said. "Keep it up, Bella."
"That's what my dad tells me, that it makes police officers feel good," Isabella said.
Metro on 12/27/2016
Print Headline: Pea Ridge girl, 6, shows appreciation for police officers with visits, bracelets