Black Hills–area law enforcement agencies recently took part in the Salvation Army’s “Shop With a Cop” event to form positive bonds with at-risk youth.
The event, which has been held annually for the past decade, took place at two Walmart stores in Rapid City, South Dakota. Participating local law enforcement officers accompanied around 25 at-risk and underserved kids on a shopping spree, helping them expand their wardrobes for the upcoming school year and stock up on warm clothes for winter. Officers carried a clipboard and a calculator to keep track of their kids’ budget and make sure they each spent a maximum of $90.
“For some of these children, this is the first time they’ve ever owned new clothing items,” Major Jerry O’Neil, area coordinator of the Salvation Army of the Black Hills, told the Rapid City Journal.
The kids eagerly bought new shoes, jackets, pajamas and other clothing during the spree. The children were chosen by advocates who worked with the school districts and knew their individual situations.
Organizers said the purpose of the event was not only to give new clothing to kids, but also to create a positive impression of law enforcement.
“We set aside resources every year to be able to do this,” O’Neil said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to be a part of this process. Anytime we can get young kids involved with law enforcement folks in a very positive perspective, that’s why ‘Shop With a Cop’ is around.”
O’Neil added that the event reinforces that law enforcement officers “are people who really honestly care about their community. They live and work here as well, so it’s a part of their community.”
Officers were happy to take part in the event, “deputizing” the young participants with badge stickers and police department temporary tattoos.
Rapid City Police Officer Ethan Manuel said the best way to serve the community is to serve the children.
“Those kids might perceive us as someone scary. We’re just trying to create that bond,” Manuel said. “The bond is the best. This might be the first time they’ve seen us, so if we can get in there first and shed a good light on the police department, that’d be great.”
Pennington County Sheriff’s Deputy Branden Spence also participated in the event. He said he enjoys doing community outreach “to improve relations between the community and the sheriff’s office.”
Spence said he could see that the kids were nervous when they first arrived, but they quickly warmed up to officers and began to open up about themselves. Some even asked questions about the deputies’ gear, or told officers they want to be in law enforcement when they grew up.
“We had a blast helping some area kiddos pick up some fresh school clothes! Shout out to The Salvation Army of the Black Hills for helping make this ‘Shop with a Cop’ event a success!” the Rapid City Police Department wrote on Facebook after the event, alongside photos of officers, children and their parents.