Wednesday morning shoppers at Target in Independence’s Bolger Square surely noticed the mass of Independence Police cars in the parking lot.
Nothing to be alarmed about, though – just some officers helping spread some Christmas cheer.
No fewer than 17 officers were at Target for the Shop With a Cop program, as some less-fortunate children from Independence Schools received $100 in tax-free store credit to select gifts of their choosing while accompanied by a police officer.
In addition, last Thursday nine teams of officers and department personnel ventured out in squad cars to deliver gifts from Community Services League to some homebound families in need. On Saturday a group helped distribute gifts at the CSL store in Independence.
Officer Desiree Abraham said IPD has done programs similar to Shop With a Cop, but Wednesday marked the department’s first recent partnership for the nationally popular law enforcement program. To identify children to partner with, police worked with the family-school liaisons of the Independence School District.
“Target’s been great to work with; they’re providing breakfast for the kids,” Abraham said. “We asked (the liaisons) to let us know about families that appeared to need assistance, and we selected from those.”
Fifteen children from eight families, ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors, got to roam the aisles of Target with an Independence officer.
“One is shopping for an infant,” Abraham said.
Jake Russell, Target’s store manager, credited Rachel Wells, the store’s asset protection manager, with organizing the program on their end.
“We’ve really been working on strengthening our relationship with local law enforcement,” he said. “We’ve done several events, and this is the last one of the year.
“It’s supported by Target as a whole, but it’s driven at the local level. We truly want the community to feel, ‘This is your store.’”
For years, Independence Police had partnered with Salvation Army in distributing gifts for Christmas. When the latter organization decided to take a different route this year, IPD Deputy Chief Gordon Abraham contacted Community Services League, which every year allows client families in need to sign up for Christmas gifts.
“We had never done this,” CSL Vice President Lynn Rose said of police distributions. “But we have several clients that have difficulty getting here – they either have physical challenges, or transportation issues is a huge barrier for a lot of people.
“When people sign up for Christmas food or Christmas gifts and pre-register, we take a look at the list and the case managers know who needs extra help. That’s how we vetted our list.”
Rose called the day a win-win for clients and police officers.
“They want to get out into the community,” she said of the officers. “It’s goodwill on all of our parts.”
The police echoed that sentiment.
“Any time we can interact with the public and have a positive experience, it’s excellent for them and the police officers,” said John Syme, IPD’s public information officer.
“It’s good to see the people and make them smile,” Captain Dennis Green said after he and Catherine Shull from the crime analyst unit made the last of their deliveries.
“He was very grateful, very sweet,” Shull said of one recipient. “You could see it in his eyes.”