Shop with a Cop is just what the country needs right now | ParkRecord.com

Shop with a Cop is just what the country needs right now

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Today, in Park City, against a nationwide backdrop of dramatic protests against police brutality, there will be a very different kind of demonstration. Listen for the sirens, but don’t be alarmed.

If you are up early you might see a parade of law-enforcement vehicles, lights flashing and sirens blaring, with some very happy little captives inside. The noisy entourage, organized by the Summit and Wasatch County Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, is part of the annual Shop With a Cop event that pairs local children, who might be looking at a lean holiday season, with officers from several regional law-enforcement agencies for a festive shopping spree.

After being chauffeured from breakfast at the Best Western Landmark Inn to Walmart at Kimball Junction, the kids and cops will disembark and head into the store to shop for their families with money raised by the community.

Park City and Kamas police officers, Summit and Wasatch County Sheriff’s deputies, along with Utah State Parks and U.S. Forest Service rangers, will be walking the toy and clothing aisles hand in hand with their young charges, helping to select items for their families and even supplementing the children’s budgets so they will be able to fulfill their own Christmas wishes, too.

If only we could share a template for this event with the racially divided communities in other parts of the country. And if only we could ensure that the trust and empathy cultivated by this simple gesture could last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, Shop With a Cop only comes around once a year. But it is a good example of the power of the importance of building bridges between law enforcement and diverse segments of the communities in which they work.

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There are widely divergent opinions about who was at fault in each of the current controversial cases involving fatal confrontations with police, in Missouri, New York, Ohio and even Utah. But there is one point on which all parties agree that fear and mistrust on the part of both the police and the victims escalated each incident. And while the emphasis most recently has been on racial differences, there are other factors that can be just as toxic socioeconomic differences, age, gender, culture. Any of those differences can elicit biases and mistrust.

Obviously, Park City does not suffer from the racial tension that overlays many of the areas highlighted on the nightly news, but there are those among us who feel less enfranchised and fear the lawmen who are meant to protect all of us. But maybe that ice will melt a bit when their kids come home from shopping with a cop, with big smiles and gifts in hand.

Shop with a Cop won’t prevent a "Ferguson" from ever happening in Park City, but it is a good bet those positive encounters will go a long way toward making our local cops and kids safer in the years to come.