COPS For Christmas

Community members often think of the police as those who dish out parking tickets and catch them speeding, but in one community where there had been an increase in juvenile delinquency, the police have been turning heads for a different reason. In an effort to do more than simply change their image, the Alexandria Police Department of Virginia has challenged those impressions by putting some cheer in the holidays of the at-risk youth, through a program called COPS for Christmas, which wrapped up in 2011.

photo: Officers from the Alexandria Police Department with Deputy Chief Aden

Officers from the Alexandria Police Department with Deputy Chief Aden

phot: Officers hand out donated gifts

Officers hand out donated gifts

photo: A smiling young participant holds up his new gifts

A smiling young participant holds up his new gifts

photo: Two happy young gift recipients

Two happy young gift recipients

photo: Vice President Biden announcing the COPS Hiring Program awards

Vice President Biden announcing the
COPS Hiring Program awards

COPS for Christmas was created by one officer determined to bring more than just short-lasting holiday cheer to the neighborhoods of at-risk youth. Through previous research, one Alexandria officer noticed a distinct spike in juvenile nuisance crimes throughout 2009, which inspired him to begin his own investigation. Officer Nick Ruggiero discovered that the primary age group of the youth offenders was between the ages of 13–16, and taking his research a step farther, he discovered that many of the youth offenders had younger, at-risk siblings. He then teamed up with Officer Matthew Kramarik in an effort to create a program—designed to expose at-risk youth to positive images of police—called COPS For Christmas.

Officer Ruggiero and Officer Kramarik recruited community organizations and local businesses to help finance the purchasing of Christmas gifts for the at-risk youth, while Giant Foods also joined the cause and supplied generous donations of food for the 19 selected families.

Asked about the program, Deputy Chief Hassan Aden stated that “The crime fighting strategy in Alexandria is anchored on the notion that as long as the police and the community foster meaningful, respectful, and productive partnerships, crime will decrease and there will be less reliance on the enforcement side of our craft. Our officers understand and perform their work in our communities with that notion as a guiding principle—which leads to successful and life-changing events such as the Cops for Christmas.” As we look back at last year’s holiday season, we see that assessment couldn’t be more accurate.

The year 2011 started out with a string of auto larcenies, leaving the Alexandria Police Department struggling to combat the problem. Then one day, one of the families who had been a beneficiary of the COPS for Christmas program witnessed the larceny. Immediately the family member picked up the phone and notified Officer Ruggiero. Thanks to the information, the department was able to apprehend the suspect and the larcenies came to an end. Without overlooking the facts that in 2011 the COPS for Christmas program tripled its donations through online giving, the officers took 135 photos of children with Santa, and the department gave 145 gifts to 22 different children, it is easy to say that the newly established relationships proved to be most invaluable.

The Alexandria Police Department has always been community policing oriented, and it has certainly not gone unnoticed. In fact, in September, Vice President Biden could think of no better venue to personally announce the 2011 COPS Hiring Program award recipients. The department was in the process of moving headquarters when they discovered they were recipients of a federal grant. The award came from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to hire, or retain, four officers for the next 3 years based upon their town’s fiscal strength and the agency’s future community policing plan, including successful community policing narratives like the one featured above. Surely the initiative shown by officers of the Alexandria Police Department indicates that with help to fund officer salaries, they are well on their way to more successful results.

Heather Lawrie
COPS Office



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