Building toy chests and relationships: Police officers help Missouri City kids at Shop with a Cop

2021-12-24 07:59:53 By : Ms. minnie zhang

A police officer interacts with children on Saturday, Dec. 18, at Missouri City’s annual Shop with a Cop event.

A police police officer poses with a child on Saturday, Dec. 18, at the annual Shop with a Cop event.

Missouri City Police Department patrol cars parked in front of Target on Saturday, Dec. 18, for the annual Shop with a Cop event.

New toys, clothes and good conversation brought holiday cheer to children and police officers during Missouri City’s Shop with a Cop event on Saturday, Dec. 18.

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Eighteen Missouri City and Fort Bend ISD officers paired with around 50 middle school students for shopping sprees at Target. Sergeant Russell D’Oench with the Missouri City Police Department said the event began in the city around 14 or 15 years ago. Part of a national movement, it works to provide children with gifts during the holidays and build relationships with children and families.

D’Oench said the Missouri City program started to “bridge the gap” between individuals and families who might not readily engage with police officers and show them that there is a different side to law enforcement than what is often shown on TV.

He said it lets both children and parents “become familiar with the police, become familiar with the badge, kind of humanizing the badge, and makes people feel comfortable in our presence.” That way, children who are in trouble or need help will be less hesitant or afraid to tell a police officer.

In the past while on patrol, D’Oench would stop to eat at a restaurant and overhear a parent tell their child that he would put them in jail if they misbehaved. But he said he always politely corrected the parent that he wasn’t there for that, in order to break down that image.

The police department tries to interact with community members in programs throughout the year, such as school speaking events, Police Explorers and a food drive. D’Oench said he strives to create “remember when moments” for people that they would look back on a police event years later and remember seeing officers loving what they were doing and having fun.

The Missouri City Police Department teams up with Fort Bend ISD Police Department for Shop with a Cop because the campus officers also need to build relationships with students and families.

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The children with Shop with a Cop came from around eight schools. Counselors asked teachers to nominate students based on those could use some extra assistance during the holidays. A few of the students were nominated because they had shown great behavior in school or would assist other students.

“They went above and beyond to help their classmates, so some of those kids were also chosen,” D’Oench said.

Since Shop with a Cop targets middle school children, Missouri City police officers and fire fighters worked together for Blue Santa that allowed elementary children to shop for toys at the police station.

A lot of the funding for Shop with a Cop came from a grant from Target. The Missouri City event has received the grant for several years. Sugar Land nonprofit Sole Loved provided shoes and socks for the children. Other sponsors included Horizon Baptist Church and landscaping business JSB & Associates.

Each child had a $125 gift card to spend how they chose. It could be on toys; it could be on clothes. If their total went a little over, the officers were ready with gift cards to help cover the difference. Also, the children picked out a special gift for someone in their lives who was meaningful to them.

D’Oench said each year, officers email him ahead of the event, wanting to participate. Once a sign-up list is posted, it usually fills up in about an hour.

As the officers shopped with the children, they tried to leave the conversation open. Topics ranged anywhere from the family pet to school to holiday plans. Once the shopping was complete, most of the children wanted a picture with the new friend they had found in a police officer.

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D’Oench said he hopes the children go home or to school and tell family members, friends or classmates about the positive experience they had.

“Well, it’s all about relationships,” he said. “And it’s all about communication and being approachable. And this is just one of many events that we do to keep that going and create more of that atmosphere.”

Tracy Maness is a reporter for Houston Community Newspapers.

Tracy covers issues and happenings in Fort Bend County and has previously worked in the HCN Katy, Bellaire and Memorial beats. Areas of special interest include education, features, nonprofits, health and anything that is ripe for a good story.

Tracy grew up in southwest Houston and joined HCN in 2018. She holds a bachelor's degree in entrepreneurship and mass media from Houston Baptist University.

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