PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Protected by her K9 officers and surrounded by patches from various departments, five-year-old Sophia Richards said she knows the police will protect her.

“I support police officers because they keep me safe,” said Sophia. “They take bad guys to jail.”

From police to troopers, to lifeguards, and more, Sophia shows her appreciation. The Peoria family spreads awareness of the positive encounters on her Facebook page, Sophia Salutes First Responders.

Parents Veronicah and Terry said Sophia’s teaching and reaching people across the nation on how to show compassion to those who serve.

“I’ll never forget the first time she went up to an officer and this lady looked down at her, and she goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I know who you are! You’re super popular. I follow you,’” said Terry. “Then it just kept snowballing bigger and bigger and bigger. And I’m going, ‘we’ve got a little celebrity!’”

“It makes me feel very proud,” said Veronicah. “Proud to know that she is learning kindness, and she’s learning to appreciate people who actually risk their lives every day to protect her… to protect us.”

A Peoria County sheriff’s deputy said she’s a special girl with a strong message.

“She is our #1 cheerleader right now. It’s amazing. So often, our calls are negative. So, to have her come around to just say ‘thank you.’ It reassures us that we took that oath to serve this community. She’s part of this community, so that’s why we want to give back to her and how her that we respect the fact she recognizes what we do.”

Vincent Cogdal, Peoria County Deputy

The Richards said her reach goes beyond central Illinois showcasing how strong a bond for the badge can be.

“Sophia knows when I see a police officer, I’m safe,” said Veronicah. “She always says, ‘if anything happens, I know police officers will save me and take me home.’”

“Something that she just did out of her own heart, out of her own nature, without us coaching or saying hey ‘go for this’ has really just taken off,” said Terry. “I’ve seen the way that it’s impacted other people and touched their lives.”

Approximately 30 different agencies surprised and celebrated Sophia’s birthday with her in March. They gave her her own police car.

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