Police associations nurture holiday giving after stormy summer and with pandemic twist

With an unprecedented backdrop — after a summer of sometimes violent protests and police clashes, and with the ongoing pandemic limiting gatherings and forcing isolation — law enforcement officers around the state are continuing the long-standing tradition of aiding their communities in the spirit of the holidays.

Among the many programs in Colorado is the Aurora Police Association’s “Shop with a Cop” event. The Aurora program, which matches local youth with an officer for a planned shopping spree, has two phases — one at the start of the school year and the other heading into the holiday season.

“At Christmas we have the opportunity to give gifts; this is our Christmas gift to them,” said Lt. Bob Wesner, a past president of the association who helped start the program five years ago.

Children and teens, up to the age of 17, receive a $200 Walmart gift card with the condition that they have to buy at least one outfit of clothing, Wesner said. Volunteer officers, from Aurora and other metro area law enforcement agencies, shop with the children, offering advice while celebrating the shared experience. About 100 beneficiaries take part in each phase.

This year, because of COVID-19 concerns, the program shifts to a drive-thru experience. The holiday Shop with Cop event was held Saturday at the department’s District 3 station, 23911 E. Arapahoe Road. About a dozen association volunteers handed out the cards and a holiday gift basket to kids in passing vehicles.

“Under the current (COVID-19) circumstances, this is the best way we’ve found” to carry on, Wesner said.

The Denver Police Foundation is a partner this year in “Christmas in the City,” to be held this Saturday at the Coors Field parking lot. It’s billed as the “Biggest drive-thru Christmas Party in Denver.”

In Arapahoe County, sheriff’s deputies went shopping Tuesday for toys that will be delivered to children in the Deer Trail area. Donations of toys and gifts were gathered at the sheriff’s office headquarters in partnership with the county’s “Partnering for the Holidays” to benefit families.

— Arapahoe Sheriff (@ArapahoeSO) December 8, 2020

In Douglas County, the sheriff’s office was out and about “playing Santa” on Wednesday with the support of “elves” who handed out gift cards as a way to “pay it forward.”

A Facebook post on the Douglas County sheriff’s page,titled “We are Playing Santa,” 237 reactions, 34 comments and nine shares as of Sunday afternoon.

“Love you guys…thank you!” said Debbie Wagner in a comment. “We salute you. Thank you all,” said Joni Dobbins.

After a tense summer, in which protesters clashed with police and calls were made to defund police departments, community support for police in Aurora continues, Wesner said.

The $40,000 annual program is funded mostly through modest donations by grassroots contributors. Fundraising has been up to par.

“We thought we would have less support” for Shop with a Cop this year, Wesner said. “It has been wonderful. The community has been great in making sure kids get the things they need.”

Wesner said Aurora’s two-phase program helps the children, but it also helps officers as well.

“It’s a pleasant relief from everyday routines that officers tend to get into during their job,” Wesner said. “It’s a great time to show support and understand why we do the job we do. It’s for community and how to reach out to them in a positive way. Mentally, it’s like hitting the recharge button; it kind of puts things in perspective.”

Aurora police this summer, after the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, introduced several policing policy changes, including banning carotid pressure holds.

“Things are getting better; it is going to take some time,” Wesner said of policing in the city. “I accept the changes and look forward. We work for the community; it (change) is going to bring people together and to a better understanding.”

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