If you see a parade of law enforcement vehicles with lights and sirens blaring as they leave Sea World and head over to the Target store on Sports Arena Saturday morning, you can rest assured it’s just a code red and green. Santa Claus is overhead in a police helicopter directing the whole thing.
The Coronado Police Department and the San Diego Harbor Police are hosting this year’s “Shop With a Cop” event for an estimated 325 children. The San Diego County Probation Department has 50 officers taking part and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has more than 30 deputies involved this year.
Local law enforcement officers pair up with a child or two, have breakfast with them and take in a show at Sea World, then all head over to Target in the parade of vehicles, before hitting the store aisles with $100 gift cards for each child.
“It’s my fourth time doing it. It’s my favorite event of the year. I love it,” said Deputy Probation Officer Michael Keeley, assigned to Juvenile Field Services. “It’s fun to see the kids’ faces. It’s just a great day.”
The event is funded with grants and donations raised by the host agencies. Children between the ages of 5 and 12 are selected from schools, churches, and social service agencies throughout the county by STAR/PAL, a nonprofit that connects members of law enforcement with children from low income or troubled homes.
Keeley said he never forces kids to buy for others in their family but he casually drops the idea before they start shopping. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite, kids want to get something for everyone in the family, and Keeley has to remind him or her to buy themselves something.
Deputy Probation Officer Denise Lamborn will be participating for the second time this year. She is assigned to Adult Field Service and said it’s a treat to get to work with children especially for such a positive event.
“It was probably one of my favorite days the year last year,” Lamborn said. “The kids are so fun and they are so excited to be part of this event.”
Lamborn said the children were equally excited to be among the officers, touch badges and handcuffs and ride in the cars while talking on the speakers.
“I think a lot of these kids have a negative perception of law enforcement, so this is a way for them to see us differently,” Lamborn said.
Last year, Lamborn was paired with a third-grade girl who was very thoughtful when shopping for her family. Even the gifts for herself were chosen because she could share them with her brothers and sisters.
At the end of the shopping spree, the children can have their gifts wrapped for free to surprise their family members and they get to sit on Santa’s lap and take a photograph.
“Next year, Shop With a Cop will be hosted by the San Diego County Probation Department and the San Diego County District Attorney Investigators. It will be an eleven month planning effort in preparation for December 2013, beginning in January,” said Supervising Probation Officer Christina Nyikes. “This will be the first time Probation has co-hosted and we are looking forward to it.”
Shop With a Cop has been hosted by local law enforcement agencies since 1994.