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Cops, Christmas and the kids

At 5 years old, Jasmine Garcia already is interested in fashion.

The Heber girl, who was paired with a Park City police officer on Saturday morning for the annual Shop With a Cop event, picked out a pair of shoes for herself to go with the "Dora the Explorer" clothes she selected. Her little sister will get a Mickey Mouse coloring pad for Christmas. She picked out a towel for her mother.

Jasmine was one of 67 kids from Summit County and Wasatch County marching through the aisles of Wal-Mart before the store opened to the public Saturday. The officers, who work for local, state and federal agencies, accompanied the children as they pushed the shopping carts through the various departments.

Some of the kids wanted toys for themselves and their families. Others went for clothes or other merchandise. They quickly filled their carts with holiday cheer.

Jim Foust, a Park City police officer who helped Jasmine, said he was pleased to be at Wal-Mart on Saturday. He said the kids will view police officers in a better light afterward and he likes seeing them happy.

"We like watching the kids. It’s exciting," Foust said. "It gives the kids something. I’m watching them smile."

The police selected the children after receiving referrals from churches and charitable organizations. Each of the kids was given $100 to spend on Saturday. The local Fraternal Order of Police organized the event.

Steve Hirzel, a Park City police officer who helped plan Shop With a Cop, said City Hall workers and the city’s Police Department also provided funding, as did The Yarrow, Wal-Mart and U.S. Bank. Wade Carpenter, the Park City police chief, was a major sponsor as well, Hirzel said.

Officers from at least 10 agencies participated, and the parking lot outside Wal-Mart was loaded with police vehicles.

The kids had breakfast at The Yarrow and then loaded into the dozens of police vehicles parked outside. The vehicles followed S.R. 224 to Wal-Mart, arriving in the parking lot after the caravan from The Yarrow.

The police vehicles blared their sirens as they set up a perimeter for the helicopter. Santa Claus arrived on a medical helicopter as the police vehicles set up a landing zone for Santa’s chopper.

Leslie Welker, a detective with the Park City Police Department, followed three sisters from West Valley City between the ages of 5 and 12 as they looked for gifts. Welker agreed with the other officers who were pleased to be at the store on Saturday.

"They make it so much fun — the kids, just seeing the kids," Welker said.

She said the battered economy makes it more important in 2008 for the police to help the kids with the gifts. Welker said the officers "love" the event and volunteered to work on what would normally be a day off.

Welker does not discount the impression the police officers might make on the kids. When they are older, she said, the kids might remember Shop With a Cop events and realize police officers are friendly.

"This shows we’re just like other people. They can trust us. We’re here to help," Welker said.


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