Officer Colin and retired chief John Barber speak to a kindergarten class in Northeast Elementary School.

Courtesy of Tamiko Toland '90

Officer Colin and retired chief John Barber speak to a kindergarten class in Northeast Elementary School.

April 25, 2017

Ithaca’s Youngest Police Officer Connects With Cornell

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Colin Toland, age nine, is the youngest police officer at the Ithaca Police Department.

Colin is no ordinary police officer. Aside from being the youngest member of the IPD, he is also battling ependymoma, a type of brain cancer. At 9 years old, it is Colin’s seventh year fighting the disease, and his fifth year in Ithaca with his mother, Tamiko Toland ’90 and father, Ian Hayward ’04.

The IPD officially swore Colin into the position on September 12, 2016. Since then, he has been doing SWAT training, making visits to the 911 center, as well as touring other agencies as a member of the IPD, according to Toland.

Colin has also recently been spending time with Cameron Yates ’18.

Yates went through a similar situation in his childhood in Fairfield, Conn. At the age of four, he was diagnosed with ALL, a type of leukemia that is more common in children than Colin’s illness, and underwent treatment. During his treatment, the chief of the Fairfield Police heard about his desire to become a police officer and began sending patrol officers to his house.

Just like Colin, Yates was given a swearing-in ceremony as a child before the Memorial Day Parade, which he got to participate in with the FPD. The current deputy chief of the FPD is involved in Colin’s story and sends him care packages from the police department as well.

Two years ago, Colin went into a relapse and went through numerous brain surgeries and various experimental treatments. Over a year ago, the doctors informed Toland and Hayward that Colin had less than a year left to live with little options of treatment left.

“It was during one of his radiation treatments [at the time] that he started talking about how he wanted to become a police officer,” Toland said.

A year later, in early 2016, Toland found out that her son had less than a year left to live.

“Long story short, over a year ago, we were told by doctors that he had about three to six months to live. They didn’t have any treatments options for him,” Toland said. “Last May we actually took him down to Memphis, to St. Jude’s, for an emergency brain surgery. And the surgeons had said we won’t do any more surgery on Colin.

Not too long after his treatment in Memphis, Colin attended a community barbecue in Ithaca, where he met John Barber, retired Chief of the IPD.

At the barbecue, Barber told Colin about the prospect of becoming a police officer. Colin, however, due to his hearing deficit, misunderstood it as a promise to let him join the department immediately.

A misunderstanding became a reality in September when Colin was sworn in. As the news spread around the town, the ceremony soon became a community event with friends, family and his fourth grade class, according to Toland.

“It’s given him a sense of purpose,” Toland said. “People want to make a difference in their lives, and they want to find something where they can have their lives have meaning. And at the age of nine, Colin already has a thing.”

Toland speculated that Colin’s sudden desire to become a police officer around last year was due to Zootopia, an animated Disney movie about police officers achieving their goals through adversity.

“He wants to make a difference,” Toland said. “He doesn’t really care [about the uniform] — most kids are into the gear.”

Toland believes Colin’s presence in the IPD has helped the officers as well.

“For him, it’s not the trappings of it. It’s about the deeper meaning about what the police do,” Toland said. “And it’s a great message. It helps the officers as well, I think, because it’s very easy to get dragged down by the stuff that happens.”