In what has been an annual Christmas event for the past two decades, 'Shop with a Cop' was back again this Saturday, giving area children in need an opportunity to create Christmas miracles for themselves and their families.
Officers from the Summit County Sheriff's Office, Park City Police, Wasatch County Sheriff's Office, the Utah Highway Patrol, Kamas Police, Utah State Parks, the U.S. Forest Service and federal agencies all participated in the event, in which around 60 children got to ride along with officers on their way to Walmart.
"The kids are excited as can be and the parents are just nothing but smiles," said Summit County Sgt. Andrew Wright. "Some parents don't know what to think, because some of them we've arrested.
The morning started off with a free breakfast, compliments of the Yarrow Hotel. Each child was then paired off with an officer, with some officers having more than one child, for a lights-and-sirens procession to Walmart, where each child had $100 to spend.
Summit County Sheriff's Capt. Justin Martinez said that, more often than not, most children's bills surpass that $100 mark. That's where the officers step up.
"One hundred percent of the cops, if [the bill] comes over, will cover it out of their own pockets," Martinez said. "I've seen some of them go pretty deep into their pockets."
West Valley Police officer Amanda Zeller played a special role at this year's event. Nadia, the girl with whom she was shopping, is deaf, and Zeller was called in to accompany her since she knows sign language. Together the two were picking out girls' clothes and toys.
Martinez was accompanying Luis, who wanted most of all to shop for clothes for his family, including a scarf for his mother. Park City Police Sgt. Andrew Leatham helped a young boy named Lonny pick out a gold Playstation 3 controller, a skateboard and a board game.
After checking out, the kids then went to a wrapping station, where volunteers from Prudential Utah Real Estate were on hand to wrap the kids' presents. Santa also made an appearance, and was on hand to pose for pictures and talk with the children.
Sgt. Wright, who was one of the main coordinators for the event, said he enjoys helping children in need pick out Christmas presents, and stressed that it's an important community outreach event for the various agencies involved.
"It's that one time of year we get to do this. Sometimes we don't have the best of circumstances prior with [the kids'] parents," Wright said. "But people see, 'These officers are human beings, they're not here to treat me differently, they're here to take care of my child.
"We don't want [childrens'] interactions with law enforcement to be negative," Martinez said.
Wright said the program is "almost on autopilot now," and that they know which sponsors are going to donate to 'Shop with a Cop.' He said the agencies reach out to area schools to see which children are in need, at which point the agencies then get in touch with the parents. For families that the program did not have room for, the agencies donated gift cards.