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October 30, 2002
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Va. Police Trading Cards Popular With Kids, Adults

by Jessie Halladay, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

SMITHFIELD, Va. -- When police Officer David Minns walks into the Hardy Elementary School cafeteria, the children notice.

Some run up and give him hugs. Others wave animatedly, until it looks as if they'll shake their arms off in excitement. Still others call out hellos with mouths half full of peanut butter and jelly.

But when Minns starts handing out his new trading cards, pandemonium sets in.

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Youngsters flock to Minns and the other Smithfield police officers, wanting to get one of the trading cards that are fast becoming collectibles. The department gave each of its officers 1,000 baseball-style cards with the individual officer's photograph and biographical information on it.

The cards _ paid for through a community-policing grant _ act as public relations for the Smithfield department, which is trying hard to reach out to children.

"This was a way to personalize the officers," Police Chief Mark Marshall said.

This isn't a new idea. Hampton, York County and West Point have done it. Marshall admits that he borrowed the idea from other departments.

In Smithfield, officers began handing out cards and signing them at the town's 250th anniversary celebration in September.

For many of the Hardy pupils, the cards are just as cool as getting baseball great Cal Ripken Jr.'s signature when he was in town for the anniversary.

"I think they're really cool," 7-year-old Katie Potter said. "I'm going to keep them where I keep my Cal Ripken Jr. ball because I got his signature, too."

For Hardy Principal Richard Crawford, the cards are a neat new element in the regular visits that the officers make to his school. It's not unusual to find an officer sitting down to lunch with a group of children at Hardy. Pupils love seeing the officers so much, Crawford said, the officers were asked to sign scrap paper, napkins or lunch boxes for kids wanting autographs.

"It's about time the heroes that matter get the recognition," Crawford said. "I'm really tickled about the trading cards."

Third-grader James Kitchen had five cards by the end of one recent lunch appearance from the officers. That's enough to start a pretty good collection, the 8-year-old said.

"I like that they give us a signature," James said. "I hope that they'll come back and different ones will come."

The cards have gotten so much attention, it's not just the kids who want them.

"I've had more adults ask for them than kids," Officer Clarence Seamster said. "They're rapidly becoming collector's items.

"It has just made an enormous public impact. It makes what we do worthwhile."



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