The Dawson County Sheriffs Office wants to show children the gentle, helping, caring side of law enforcement. Thats one reason they participate in the Shop with a Cop program every Christmas.
Think about it. Law enforcement officers carry guns, yell at people and drive cars with loud, scary sirens. They give people speeding tickets, arrest people in public places, sometimes even go in to peoples homes and take them off to jailwith the children watching from behind the sofa and crying.
Yet, these same officers also teach school children about crime prevention, personal safety and the dangers of alcohol and other drugs. They help people who have been hurt by others, promote safe teenage driving and volunteer their personal time to be mentors in schools. Many have families, are members of local churches and civic clubs, and participate in community events.
Fostering relationship-building between youth and law enforcement, the Shop with a Cop program helps kids see deputies, not as authority figures to be feared, but as people to be trusted, people who serve, protect and keep the peace.
It has proven to be a huge public relations event for the agency, said Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle.
The goal is to present cops to kids in a positive light, especially important for young people who may have negative associations with law enforcement due to problems their family members have encountered with the system.
Shop with a Cop accomplishes that goal.
Walmart of Dawsonville helped sponsor the local shopping spree, as it has in past years, this time with a grant of $2,000. Together with $2,700 in proceeds from a poker run motorcycle ride and money donated by the Sheriffs Office, $5,000 was raised for the project. That was enough to include 50 children in the program this year.
Walmart was teeming last Thursday with children and Dawson County Sheriffs Office deputies.
The deputies patiently pushed shopping carts and reached toys on the upper shelves as children not accustomed to such lavish treatment browsed through all the possibilities.
The kids had an allotted amount to spend on themselves for Christmas gifts. The deputies helped the younger ones stay within budget. Many children opted to use their Christmas money to buy gifts for family members instead of for themselves.
Shop with a Cop is a wonderful opportunity that we look forward to each year, said Capt. Tony Wooten, public information officer for the Sheriffs Department. Theres nothing like seeing the joy it brings to the kids faces.
The Sheriffs Office has been organizing the Shop with a Cop program each Christmas since 2008.
This year they are serving so many childrenthe most so farthey couldnt get it all done in one day, so they will head back to Walmart one more time before Christmas.
That seems to be just fine with the deputies who volunteer their time to shop with the kidsprobably a lot more satisfying than giving out speeding tickets.