Fort Worth police Officer Damon Cole spends a lot of his time in uniforms. When he's not patrolling neighborhoods in the city's south division, he's crisscrossing the country wearing superhero outfits.
He doesn't have superpowers like flight or super speed — although they would make both of his jobs much easier. Instead, he hops on planes or drives himself in his customized Dodge Charger, which has become his superhero-mobile. He drives it to meet children suffering from cancer and other illnesses while dressed as their favorite superheroes, such as Batman, Iron Man or the Incredible Hulk. It's all part of his nonprofit charity called Heroes and Cops Against Childhood Cancer.
"The whole purpose of what I do is to make that kid forget that they're sick — to give them the motivation to keep fighting," Cole says. "When I interact with the kids that can talk and are more alert and whatnot, they will ask me, 'How are you Batman, Superman or the Incredible Hulk?' And I'll say, 'Well, it's a secret and you can't tell anybody, but in the movies, they make superheroes seem
Cole's love for
playing superheroes has also crossed over into his police work. He's often used his superhero paraphernalia as a way to help break down barriers between the police and the community. Recently, he even stopped a crime while dressed as Batman.
Cole started incorporating costumes into his police work 14 years ago when he worked for the Dallas Police Department. He says he was tired of seeing children being scared to approach or talk to police officers and wanted to do something more than give out stickers to reach out to them.
"I put the Superman logo on my bulletproof vest and would show it to the kids and have them hit the trauma plate," Cole says. "From that moment on, the kids reacted to me in a positive light."
Cole works as many extra hours as he can to raise money to buy more costumes and travel to visit children as their favorite superheroes. His secret identity started around four years ago when he learned about Bryce Schottel of Smithton, Illinois, a 7-year-old cancer patient who had a great love for Superman.
"Something about him just touched my heart, so I reached out to his family," he says.
Cole used three days of vacation time to drive to Illinois and make an appearance at Bryce's school as Iron Man and at the hospital as Superman.
"That basically started it all," Cole says. "Since then, I've been to 17 different states."
Cole's also been inundated with messages from families with children who have similar stories and a deep love for superheroes and cartoon characters. Two months ago, he expanded his costume closet for a little girl named Kamryn in Lee, South Dakota, who suffered from brain cancer.
"She doesn't like superheroes, but she loves Mickey Mouse," Cole says. "So I ordered a Mickey Mouse costume."
All of the costumes and his custom superhero mobile are self-funded. The costumes aren't cheap and can run as much as $4,500, but Cole says they have to look good because the kids can spot imperfections
"The costumes have to be good because if they aren't, the kids will call you out," he says. "If you don't look realistic, you lose credit immediately with the kids."
The realism also helps Cole's mission of inspiring the kids to keep fighting and see that heroes still exist in the world.
He also got a rare chance to show just how heroic he can be during a visit to a Walmart in Fort Worth last Sunday. The manager invited Cole to participate in a child safety day event at the store. Cole arrived in his full Batman uniform as a shoplifter tried to sneak four DVDs out of the store without paying for them. The door alarm sounded as he tried to leave, and Cole took off after him.
"I've been a cop for so long, it's my second nature to go after them," he says. "So I didn't think about not having a uniform or a gun."
The situation played out much differently than how the real Batman probably would have handled it. Cole calmly approached the man in the store's parking lot and talked to him. The man eventually admitted that he tried to take the DVDs — including a copy of The Lego Batman Movie — without paying for them. Because they cost less than a certain amount and the man had no prior convictions, Cole wrote him a ticket and sent him on his way.
"Things could not have fallen better into place," Cole says. "It's unreal how it happened."
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The shoplifting incident was more than just an unusual moment for a police officer who likes to pretend to be a superhero in his spare time. It is also a great metaphor for the work Cole does both as a police officer and as a superhero.
"My ultimate goal is to make a difference in someone's life and be a positive one," he says. "I'm responsible for my own happiness. I can go to work and be miserable, but I'm not that way. I try to do what I can to help people when I interact with them because people forget that cops are no different from anyone else. ... My ultimate goal is just to have a lasting impression.
"That's just me doing my part to make the world a better place," he continues. "My motto