It doesn’t matter where she’s at or what she’s doing. When Tinley Kern sees a police officer, everything else in this 5-year-old Shiloh girl’s life is put on hold, and she’s off on a mission.
She runs to any officer she sees — arms outstretched. They soon find themselves in the biggest hug this little girl can give. She says, “Thank you,” and then hands them a bracelet.
“They’re all my cop friends,” Tinley said.
Tinley’s goodwill campaign began one afternoon last September when she met Chester police officer James Brockmeyer at a gas station parking.
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“I was thrown off guard when she asked to go over and asked him for a hug,” said Jamie Embrich, Tinley’s mom. “But he just lit up, and then she did, too. It gave me cold chills.”
Shortly there after, Brockmeyer had a care package sent to Tinley from Thin Blue Line USA, Embrich said.
“He was my bestest cop friend,” Tinley said.
On Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, Brockmeyer was killed in the line of duty while in vehicle pursuit of a suspect in Chester.
“We found out on the news, and she was devastated. We went to the memorial service held at the local high school and there were just pictures of Brockmeyer and Tinley at every turn it seemed like. So it was hard to shelter her from it, but she is strong and just took to all the people,” Embrich said.
Now, Tinley hands out bracelets and hugs to support her mission — thanking police officers for keeping her safe.
“Brockmeyer inspired her. She knows no fear or stranger, especially of them in uniform. She doesn’t really ask for hugs anymore, she just runs to them and gives it,” Embrich said.
According to the company’s website, “Thin Blue Line USA was founded with the goal of supporting our brothers and sisters in blue. Our core mission is to provide quality products while making a difference in the law enforcement community.”
Embrich said the company supplies Tinley with bracelets for her to share with officers she meets wherever they go.
“Believe me, it makes running errands take longer, but it’s worth it seeing her make someones day or show another kid they don’t have to be scared of them,” Embrich said.
Because of Tinley, the company even started making kid-sized bracelets.
“I told them that the ones they were sending us fall right off of her arm, because they’re just too big for her little wrist,” her mom said.
Besides the officers she happens to meet out on the street, Tinley has also made special trips to several departments. Since last year, Embrich said Tinley has visited 16 law enforcement agencies ranging from state police to county sheriff’s offices, and municipal departments.
“She’s become their biggest fan, really,” Embrich said.
And they, hers.
“We still stay in touch with Brockmeyer’s family and visit, we actually have ice cream with them recently at a park,” Kern said.
Eddie and Lindsay Lee of Chester, as well as the Chester, Caseyville, Normandy and St. Mary’s police departments all converged together in Chester over the summer to throw Tinley a surprise birthday party, Embrich said.
“I wish there were more ‘Tinleys’ in the world,” Shiloh interim Police Chief Gary McGill said. “We work in a world right now that is very polarized. Some people hate the police, some people love the police and a lot of people are very ambivalent or indifferent to the police. As if they sometimes see us as a necessary evil and they really don’t want to smile at us or tell us to have a nice day. The truth is that most police officers are the type of people who like meet people, shake people’s hands, ask questions and see people be respectable to each other. Tinley reminds us that this is possible in everyone. They was she talks and smiles is contagious and she has something nice to say about everyone. She reminds us of why we are public servants.”
Word of Tinley’s acts of kindness has made it way throughout police ranks around the country, and the globe. As an expression of mutual admiration, departments have been sending her their uniform patches. Her collection now stands at 98 law enforcement agencies, including one from Queensland Police Department in Australia. Another of her favorites is one she received from Fort Worth Marshal’s Office in Texas.
When Tinley grows up, she said she wants to be a police officer just like her heroes.
“She has like three police dress up outfits, but I was able to get an old police uniform shirt from Chester PD and had a friend sew it up so she had her very own Chester PD uniform,” said Embrich.
Tinley’s reaction to the present?
“Happy doesn’t begin to cut it,” her mom said.
People can follow Tinley’s story as it continues to unfold on Facebook, Tin Too’s Path to Blue, a page Kern started less than a year ago, but already it boasts over 500 members.