Shop with a Cop warms the heart of many
Shop with a Cop's main mission is give disadvantaged kids a brighter Christmas and to build a good rapport with law enforcement.
Sgt. John Davis of the Brainerd Police Department — a father of two boys — got a taste of what it would be like if he had girls.
Davis on Dec. 14 picked up three sisters — ages 4, 7, 11 — in his squad car, took them for breakfast at McDonald’s and then headed to Fleet Farm where each girl was given $30 to spend on whatever their hearts desired. During this Christmas shopping experience, Davis learned for the first time who Elsa, the mythic character from the movie “Frozen,” was.
Davis took the girls shopping as part of a Christmas partnership called Shop with a Cop. The partnership is widespread, and people shopping in Crow Wing County and surrounding counties may have seen police officers and sheriff deputies shopping with children at retail stores this month.
Herman Bradley of the Lakes Area Law Enforcement Association coordinates the event in Crow Wing County. The association partners with the Brainerd and Baxter police departments and the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office to make the event a success. Each year, Crow Wing County Social Services with the help of area schools choses 60 under privileged children to be part of the event. During the mornings of the first three Saturdays in December, the children were split up evenly to go shopping with law enforcement officers. The shopping excursions took place Dec. 7 at Walmart, Dec. 14 at Mills Fleet Farm and Dec. 21 at Target. The children are picked up at their homes by police officers, taken to McDonald's for breakfast and then are off to the retail stores.
Bradley said the children then go to the police department to wrap the Christmas presents and then are taken home by the officers. Bradley said the Shop with a Cop event wouldn’t be possible without the sponsors and help from the participating retail stores and McDonald’s that donates the breakfast to the children. Sponsors also include the Brainerd Lions, the Brainerd Eagles Aerie No. 287 and its women’s auxiliary club; and law enforcement students at Central Lakes College and the Minnesota United States Pageant queens also volunteer to assist the children with buying their gifts.
“These families being picked ... are disadvantaged kids coming from broken homes and mostly, a lot of times these broken homes are almost on the edge of criminality and so they may not have a very good opinion of police officers,” Bradley said. “This gives the kids a real good experience with liking police officers. ... So these kids will grow up hopefully with having this little experience, will grow up with a really good opinion (of police officers), and it will be hard to break that opinion.
“As for what it does to the public, we hope people see all this stuff going on and see the good work being done for the community. The people who come to these venues to go shopping, I think when they see the cops shop with these kids they are quite amazed to see what is going on and this carries over word of mouth.”
Debbie Swaser, a case aid with Crow Wing County Social Services, said she’s been involved in Shop with a Cop since 2008. Swaser said for some children this is their only Christmas gift.
“This is a new relationship with law enforcement for these kids,” Swaser said. “A lot of these kiddos have had a negative history with the police departments or the sheriff’s department as they may have seen a parent arrested or whatever and this gives them something positive for them to see.
“I have parents in tears when they talk about it afterwards. Everything about (Shop with a Cop) is positive. When I talk to some of the kids I know afterwards, they always tell me they had a great time.”
Davis has participated in Shop with a Cop several times since he began working for Brainerd Police Department 14 years ago. Davis, as well as other Brainerd officers who participate in the Christmas project, said they enjoy being a part of seeing less fortunate children receiving gifts and experiencing the good will and giving from others to them, knowing their had a part in giving these children a brighter Christmas than it would have been.
Davis said the police department as a whole is always looking at doing simple things, such as spending time with children in a positive setting, as the officers day-to-day interactions with children it is not always a positive experience. Davis said the children who are chosen may have gone through a difficult or disadvantaged situation they had no control over, such as police were called to their home for a domestic disturbance.
Davis said one of his favorite memories over the years has been when the children are given the money and they don’t just buy a toy for themselves.
“It’s really special when you see a child make a decision to spend some of that money on someone else, buying something for their mom or dad or little sister,” Davis said. “These are the times that really stick out for me, it is so cool. For these kids who are disadvantaged to think of someone else is heartwarming.”
Officer Kathy Ailts, who has worked at the Baxter Police Department for 25 years, has participated in Shop with a Cop every year and this year helped with all three Saturdays.
“It’s fun to see the kids get all riled up and happy to do some shopping and to have a positive contact with them,” Ailts said. “Kids have fun and they get a kick out of riding in the police car. You see that a lot of them are shy at first and then by the time you take them home they are talking non-stop.”
Ailts also has been with children who have purchased gifts for other people, including some girls during the first December weekend.
“To think they don’t have anything and for them to buy something for someone else before themselves, it’s really heartwarming to see,” she said. “It’s also fun to see them play with the toys and to become comfortable around us.”
JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.