On November 19, 2015, Officer Michael Kotsonis was called to the scene when a woman was spotted shoplifting some items from the Ocean State Job Lot in Portsmouth, N.H. There was nothing exceptional about it; it was a routine dispatch for him. Just another day on the job.
Kotsonis is a simple, plain-spoken, family man. A member of the city’s police force for 19 years, he knows his brothers in blue well, and he knows the job. Using the store’s surveillance footage, he identified the shoplifter and drove over to her house to take back the items that she stole.
But when she opened the door, Kotsonis found himself looking at somebody very different from what he expected.
The items she stole were to be used for a birthday cake.
The shoplifter, who remains unnamed, took cake mix, Crisco, and some tubs of frosting from Ocean State Job Lots, an odd assortment of goods at first glance. But for her child’s birthday, it meant baking a cake and eliciting the sort of sugary sweet smile that only a mother can hope for.
When Kotsonis drove back to the store with the stolen items in tow, it’s hard to tell which part of him kicked in when he decided to pay the bill and tell the manager, “I’d like to buy it for them.” Was it the family man in him who saw a mother being dragged down by financial constraints? Was it the simple morality and compassion that comes with the territory of being a cop for almost two decades?
“I’m not going to take away a kid’s birthday cake,” Kotsonis told the Portsmouth Herald. “It doesn’t make it right,” he added, referring to theft and noting that he still sat the woman down and explained how she was in the wrong in this situation.
Although her illegal actions weren’t justified by her good intentions, as she could still be facing charges, he firmly believes that “the kid shouldn’t have to pay.”
Kotsonis said that these kinds of acts are commonplace with officers.
Acting Deputy Police Chief Frank Warchol didn’t even hear about his officer’s act of kindness until the Portsmouth Herald contacted him, and that’s usually how this kind of information comes back to him: through indirect, outside sources.
Warchol has heard of officers buying people gas, officers paying for people’s food, and officers giving the poor some money, but it rarely comes from the mouth of the person who did the good deed themselves. Kotsonis, like many, exemplify the department’s mission statement of community, commitment, and compassion.
“Mike is an incredibly upstanding man,” Warchol told ABC News. “Even if he was not wearing the badge, he would have done the same thing. It certainly is not about the uniform but rather his measure of character.”
For Kotsonis, it’s not the posterity or media coverage that gives his deed meaning.
“What you do when no one is looking, that’s the character of someone,” he told the Portsmouth Herald.
If it hadn’t been an anonymous employee at the store who contacted the Portsmouth Herald after Kotsonis helped her when she had a seizure, nobody would’ve ever turned to look. His deed would’ve just been one of many quiet, similar things that he said his fellow officers “do all the time.”
“We don’t do stuff to brag about it. I don’t need an article to know what’s right and wrong,” Kotsonis said.
To him, it’s that straightforward. Buying a woman some birthday cake ingredients for her kid wasn’t a decision he made because he wanted to change the world or show people that all cops are inherently good.
“If you can help someone out,” he said, “you do.”