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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
December sometimes gets a “Bah! humbug” rating from law enforcement officers because of its increased incidence of burglaries, shoplifting, domestic violence, and drunk driving. But what never fails to keep officers’ spirits bright are the holiday programs held by agencies across the country, especially those that spread cheer to local children.
As Chanel Dickerson, Assistant Chief of Patrol Services, South, of the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), put it, “I really get a high out of the programs we do with children. Just seeing them smile makes me happy. I know this is true for other officers as well. People who work in law enforcement do it because we really want to help, we really care. And we want to connect with kids when they are young. We don’t want them to see us only in enforcement actions.”
A program that’s popular with many law enforcement departments is Shop With A Cop. According to Assistant Chief Dickerson, this all-volunteer activity—which provides a fun-filled day for underprivileged children—is just as much fun for the officers. “They love giving the children the excitement of choosing gifts for themselves,” she says. “The kids look up to the officers, hug, and hold onto them. And they’re so grateful.” One little girl told her officer that this would probably be her only Christmas gift. Though each child is given a gift certificate from the D.C. Police Foundation, the officers invariably dig deep into their own wallets to pay for additional things, including pajamas and other basic clothing as well as toys.
“Most of the time when people call, it’s for bad stuff. This lets them see us in a different light,” Assistant Chief Dickerson says, adding that some of the children stay in touch with officers through high school. In fact, she herself was inspired to enter law enforcement by a female officer she met when she was nine years old. “So I’m paying it forward,” she says.
In nearby Maryland, the Santa Ride program is very popular with the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) motorcycle officers. Dressed as elves and led by Santa Cop, the 30 riders roar through the county one day in December to help raise funds for the Children’s Inn, a homelike residence for children being treated at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda. In each of the MCPD’s departments, the group stops to talk about the work of the inn and distribute flyers with donation information, while NIH personnel collect contributions.
The road show ends at the inn, where the officers have a party with the children. “It’s a lot of fun for the motors,” says Lieutenant David McBain, a special investigations officer who participated as a former motorcycle officer and now runs the event. “Typically, motor officers write tickets and deal with accidents. This is a day when they can relax and enjoy being with the kids, who are wonderful. We get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that we’re helping them by helping the inn.”
“The kids love it too,” says Lt. McBain. “So we do another activity in the summer called Christmas in July. Buses pick the children up at the inn, then we take them with a motorcycle escort to a Target, where they shop with gift cards. Probably the biggest thrill for them is seeing the waves part as we drive down the highway with sirens blaring and lights flashing.”
Like thousands of other local law enforcement departments, the MCPD and the MPD support a variety of voluntary programs that build positive community relations throughout the year. As MCPD Sergeant Marcus Dixon said, “When I’ve been on patrol, I am serious, tactical, and on alert. Cocoa with a Cop and other things we do are a great way to unwind and feel appreciated. Especially by kids, who think we are cool when they are little but can be distrustful by middle school. These programs help us connect.”
To learn more about related topics, see the following publications:
Faye C. Elkins,
Sr. Technical Writer
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