By Annette Steinmentz

A police officer’s job often touches the unpleasant side of human nature. Their normal workday involves aspects of society which most of us don’t even think about. Finding a smile can be a difficult task at times. At The Backup, we would like to take a moment and highlight the positive. We want to acknowledge charitable acts of kindness, which many officers are involved in, exemplary efforts, which just may have brought a smile to someone’s face.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Nevada had been bringing smiles to underprivileged children for 12 years now. Officer Russ White and Captain Jerry Keller, who is now the Las Vegas Sheriff, started the program. In an attempt to brighten the holidays for a few kids who normally wouldn’t have found much under their Christmas trees, the “Shop with a Cop” program was developed.

Each Christmas officers volunteer their time and money to take kids to K-Mart and let them do their Christmas shopping. Officer Erik Fricker, who now heads the program, says this program is a yearlong effort in fund raising. With a few public service announcements and word of mouth, last year they were able to raise $20,000 with $4,500 of it donated directly from police officers. It is their goal to allow each child a $200 shopping extravaganza. In most years, K-Mart was able to donate to their cause, unfortunately this was not the case last Christmas. But the 200 officers who volunteered had no intention of disappointing the 191 lucky children who went on their shopping spree. In fact, each year most officers don’t even pay attention to the price tags, and when it comes time to total the amounts, they gladly put their credit cards down to cover the remaining costs. The “Shop with a Cop” program also involves the help of civilian department members as well as officers. They donate their time as gift wrappers, baggers and even Spanish interpreters.

The children, ages 4-11, are selected by directors of various community centers. The “Shop with a Cop” participant criterion is simple. The kids must fall in the low-income bracket; they must be well behaved and have performed a positive community service within the year. That can be anything from helping a neighbor to improving on his or her own school grades. Forms are then sent home to the parents where they can note clothing sizes and special requests, such as getting a present for their siblings. The kids usually don’t have to be told to get presents for their brothers or sisters. They generally know just what to get for them, and sometimes surprise Mom and Dad, too. Most children opt for clothing as the bulk of their shopping trip.

“Shop with a Cop” is getting bigger and better every year. Last year a police officer, dressed as Santa, began the shopping spree with a police helicopter landing in the parking lot. Even Zelza Shrine clowns were there to share in the festivities. Most jurisdictions are getting involved, too. The Municipal Court Marshall, the Nevada Highway Patrol and the City of Las Vegas Detention Center were there to assist. Next year they plan on expanding the program to include not only the low- income children from all ethnic backgrounds as in the past, but also handicapped children, and kids with cancer.

“Shop with a Cop” is only one of the notable programs in which police officers help the community. They also promote bicycle safety at school assemblies with bike rodeos and an emphasis on helmet safety. In fact, kids can even order helmets during the assembly. Two weeks later, the police officers return and help make the necessary adjustments to produce the proper fit for each child. Free helmets are offered to children who cannot afford them.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department generous gestures truly go “Beyond the Call of Duty.” We know their admirable community efforts have given many smiles to children…and police officers, too.

If your department would like to share a program which your police officers are involved in, please write us at The Backup, 418 Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814, or fax us at 208-765-1059.

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