Correction: The following story about the relationship of the DeForest Police Department with honorary officer Mackenzie Clyde originally featured a picture of her in a DeForest Police Department squad car, but misidentified her "field training officer," Officer Haley Loughran. The photo caption has since been corrected. We regret the error.
The past month has been hard for the DeForest Police Department as they mourn the loss of 10-year-old honorary officer Mackenzie Clyde.
Many people came to know Mackenzie after pictures and video from her visit to the DeForest Police Department in June 2019 went viral across the Internet, but in the time since, she became a frequent visitor, coming over from her home in West Allis and changing the officers who came to know her.
Chief James Olson estimated roughly five or six visits since they met her in June 2019.
“They would drop by for an hour or a couple hours and she would bring us treats,” Olson said of Mackenzie and her mom Courtney. “She brought us a nice picture frame with three pictures from that day, and I’ve got a big book of pictures from when she did her wish day.”
It began in 2019 when a photographer with Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer reached out to Olson and asked if he would be open to hosting a girl who wanted to be a police officer.
“I said absolutely, without really thinking about it. Mostly because it’s the right thing to do,” said Olson. “We’re all one community, no matter where you’re from. And I think that it’s important that when children are affected by one of the worst things that can happen, that we do everything we can to make them feel better.”
That day Mackenzie was welcomed by the DeForest Police Department, but also the community at large, with members of other law enforcement departments coming out to visit from the Madison Police Department, the Department of Criminal Investigation, and others.
Olson had a rough plan for when Mackenzie came, such as popping balloons with the department airsoft gun, taking a ride along, and K9 demonstrations.
In the months that followed, they stayed in contact, with Olson sending selfie video greetings to Mackenzie and Mackenzie sharing pictures from Halloween when she went out as a police officer.
“We actually went over to her house last year and surprised her for her birthday,” said Olson. “The staff put together a gift and we brought it over for her ‘big 10th birthday.’ She was ‘double digits’ as she said.”
The department had Team Mackenzie t-shirts made, with a logo on the chest saying “Officer Clyde” over a badge with a unicorn.
“In policing, people don’t call you to say, ‘Come on over, we’re having a barbecue,’ they call you because they need help and in that moment you try to be your best and try to do your best for someone in need,” said Olson. “And this time the script was a little different, because the need came from a little girl who had a terrible disease and the staff got an opportunity to see someone who was in need, but just take time out to make her day special and I think it really helped the staff.”
On April 9, National Unicorn Day, it was announced that Mackenzie passed away at her home. Though news of a death is always difficult to process, Olson explained, in cases like this it is still more difficult, and so members of the department have reached out to the Clyde family and chaplains have been available to talk with officers.
In the briefing room a monitor is running with a slideshow of pictures from Mackenzie’s visit that runs in a loop throughout the day.
“The staff put it together themselves,” said Olson, “but, all those pictures are constantly scrolling and sometimes I’ll catch myself just watching the photos and reliving those moments.”
A celebration of Mackenzie’s life is scheduled for April 30 in Milwaukee.