On the evening of March 4, Sgt. Steven Dearth of the Hingham Police Department stopped for dinner at Panera Bread near Boston, Massachusetts, during his shift. While waiting in line for his food, he noticed a little girl looking at him, so he smiled and waved and she returned the gesture.
When Sgt. Dearth’s food was ready, he found a table in a back corner of the restaurant so he could monitor the entire dining room — something he says all police officers do, whether on duty or not. A few minutes after he sat down, the little girl he had previously said hello to came over to his table, hopped up in the seat, and introduced herself.
The adorable incident — that Sgt. Dearth has since described as the “best dinner date of his life” — was caught on Panera’s surveillance cameras and is now being widely shared on social media:
Sgt. Dearth told Independent Journal Review that during their dinner, the very personable and outgoing 3-year-old named Lillian (also known as Lily) told him all about her favorite movies, about her preschool, and that she wants to be a police officer when she grows up:
“She asked about my equipment, she asked if I had a police car, and she told me we should have a playdate in a few days ... “
After dinner, Sgt. Dearth showed Lily his police car and talked with her about being a police officer.
Before parting ways they snapped a picture to remember their dinner date:
With the increased media attention to tensions between some communities and the police officers that serve them, Sgt. Dearth said he hopes that more officers will take time out of their very busy lives to relate personally to their community:
“A lot of our job involves negative occurrences, and those things get more attention in the media. Police officers all across the country, and really around the world, should go out of their way to say hi, take a second, make a connection one-on-one, especially with young children. We never know when that one simple positive interaction can change someone’s life.”
Sgt. Dearth told IJR that while this wasn’t his first interaction with a young child while on the job, it was a really unique experience for him:
“We always say hi, we always try to get a smile or a wave [from kids] … but this was something really special for me … that’s why I said it was the best dinner date I’ve ever had.”
In typical hero fashion, Sgt. Dearth didn’t want to take any of the credit or praise for this powerful display of community. Instead, he said he wants to make sure people know that the attention should be on Lily:
“This isn’t about me, the credit really goes to this amazing little girl Lily for going out of her way to sit down with me … These type of positive interactions, it keeps our energy up and helps us survive mentally in this career. You keep them with you and they give you that fire to keep going.”
The friendship between Sgt. Dearth and Lily didn't stop at their dinner date. He told IJR that he recently kept his end of the deal on that follow-up playdate:
“She came in to the police station [Tuesday] with a box of munchins from Dunkin’ Donuts; the box was almost as big as her. She said I needed to share them with my friends so we did that, she played with the K-9 officer, and we shared a big hug before she left.”
Sgt. Dearth said he plans to keep in touch with Lily and said they will be planning another dinner date at Panera again in the future.