Santa in blue: cops spread good will
At 11 years old, William Wentland gets to order few people around, only his parents, probably.
Saturday was almost certainly the first time the boy gave commands to a police officer.
Wentland, who lives with his family in Highland Estates, was among the kids at Wal-Mart early that morning to cruise through the aisles before the store opened, with someone from law enforcement in tow, as part of the Shop with a Cop program. He loaded his shopping cart with gifts for the family.
His 9-year-old sister will get a play purse for Christmas, cologne awaits his 22-year-old brother and for his 20-year-old brother, a DVD of "The Punisher."
"I think it’s going to be better because we will be able to get more stuff for the people we love and care about," the boy says.
The Park City lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, an advocacy group for police officers, organized the event and Saturday continued a pre-Christmas tradition for the local officers.
Steve Hirzel, a Park City police officer and the president of the lodge, says the event is "an outward expression in a little different way."
Hirzel says 63 kids participated. The authorities are holding some of the kids in protective custody, some are underprivileged and the Peace House, which gives shelter to domestic-violence victims, suggested others. The kids are from Summit and Wasatch counties.
Hirzel says each child receives $100 in certificates to spend at the store. Sponsors include Wal-Mart, The Yarrow and U.S. Bank.
"It’s one more way for us to express our love and concern for these children," Hirzel says, remembering, in another year, a 4-year-old girl left with oven mitts so her mother would not burn her own hands while cooking.
Keith Wentland, the 11-year-old’s father, is happy the boy picked gifts for the family.
"It’s kind of cool. I didn’t even know about it," Wentland says about the program.
The police, meanwhile, see Shop with a Cop as having benefits in their relationship with kids. Their views of the police, the officers hope, will be partially formed through events like Saturday, when they see the officers as pals.
The event was festive, with Santa Claus arriving on a medical helicopter and a procession of law-enforcement cars driving from Park City to Kimball Junction, the sirens blaring at the end.
Hirzel says officers from at least eight agencies took part, including the Park City Police Department and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. State and federal agencies also were at Wal-Mart.
The officers were happy to be at the store, following the kids around as they pick gifts, fill their shopping carts and slowly roll their bounty to the registers.
Lloyd Evans, the Park City police chief, says the local Shop with a Cop program started at the defunct Kimball Junction Kmart in the early 1990s. When Kmart shuttered the store, the police stopped the program, reviving it three years ago at Wal-Mart.
"I want to be sure my Christmas spirit is intact," the chief says, adding, "I want them to know I support this 100 percent. If they’re here, I’m going to be here, too."
Sherm Farnsworth, a captain with the Sheriff’s Office, says 2006 is the 16th year he strolled through a store with a kid.
"We get to do something that’s thoroughly enjoyable," Farnsworth says. "A lot of time, our job is not uplifting or inspiring."
In his third year participating, Trent Jarman, the Park City officer who shopped with Wentland, is moved that the boy chooses presents for his family, not those that he wants. The boy asks what he should get his cousin and, quickly, he grabs a DVD of "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" and puts it into the cart.
"He hasn’t picked out anything for himself yet," Jarman says. "He’s saving that for last."
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