Snowy weather on Tuesday night just added to the holiday atmosphere.
The 10th Annual “Cops 'n Kids” sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police Cherokee Chapter No. 4 was a huge success even before it started. Each child/family were partnered with officers from Hamblen County law enforcement agencies to spend a $100 Walmart gift card on toys and other items.
The first of two groups of children came to the Crockett Trace Walmart to pick out their items.
“We have two groups of children,” said Don Baird, president of the FOP Morristown Chapter. “The first set of children came from the elementary schools, around two or three third-grade children each. The second group will be children officers who have seen throughout the year, kids who have called us, from small children to teenagers.”
Baird said that the “Cops n Kids” program has an application process to select children because some in the past have taken advantage of the program.
“We some children from juvenile court and from Department of Human Services,” Baird said. “However we can get them, we try to get them.”
The “Cops 'n Kids” program is funded through several fundraisers throughout the year, including a bluegrass concert during Police Week, a golf tournament in October and donations from the community.
“If it wasn’t for the people helping us, sponsoring us and coming out to our events, we couldn’t do it,” he said. “We raise most of our money for this.
“It’s good for us, and good for the officers because it gives our guys a chance to give back. They live here and they want to make it as good as they can. Some of our officers bring their kids with them. I brought my granddaughter,” Baird said.
Baird started “Cops 'n Kids” 10 years ago when he became president of the FOP chapter.
“We started out small, but we started having fundraisers and the event got bigger and better,” he said.
Last year’s event helped 30 to 40 children.
The amount of funds available to these children depends on how the fundraising went this year.
“Our guys enjoy it, plus it gives them a chance to interact with the community. Usually when a police car rolls up, it’s not a good thing for the kids. The kids are hurt or afraid. Fear is a big thing with them. We’ve noticed here some are kind of shy about wanting to go out with them. This gives our guys a chance to say, ‘We’re good people and Hey, we’re here to help you.’ It puts a positive light on what we do and for them not to be afraid of the uniform,” Baird said. “We want them running to us, not from us.”
In addition to the gifts at Walmart, Team Technologies packed bags with a new toothbrush and toothpaste, plus some Christmas candy.
In the past when some children have come to shop with a cop, some took off toward the grocery department to buy food instead of gifts, Baird said.
“We’ve had kids come in here and they’ll take off, it’s like starting a race sometimes,” he said. “It’s sad in a way, but we’ve had a number of kids go to the left in the store to get food and that is all that they got. I’ve also had some to ask if they could get shoes. A kid that age shouldn’t have to worry about shoes or a jacket. But every one of them would need shoes or a jacket, and sometimes the officer will buy it.”
Baird said that many of the children will buy presents for family members before they buy for themselves.
“They’ll get something for their brother or sister, mom or dad, but a lot of the officers if the kids have spent their limit on their card, the officers will buy coats, shoes (or other things). I can’t tell a kid no,” Baird said. “If they need a coat, they don’t need to walk out of here without one.”
A safeguard is built in to where the children keep their gifts. This was implemented when several parents began taking back merchandise obtained through the “Cops 'n Kids” program.
“We learned some lessons the first year,” Baird said. “We’ve gotten to the point of having to take applications. We’ve got paperwork for the people to fill out because people were taking advantage on the front end. We do it for the right reasons, but if people take advantage, it’s on them,” Baird said.
There are others who try to shoplift when there are 30 cops in the store. Baird says there is always one shoplifter who gets arrested each year at the event.
The second “Cops 'n Kids” night is Tuesday, Dec. 17 at the Crockett Trace Walmart.