The Audrain County Sheriff’s Department is participating in Shop with a Cop program to help children go shopping around Christmastime.

Shop with a Cop is a community based fundraiser that law enforcement departments participate in all around the country. It aims at giving less fortunate children in the area a Christmas they may not be able to have. It also aims at bringing the communities and law enforcement together in hopes to build a stronger relationship. According to Deputy Cody Burson, who is in charge of the campaign for the sheriff’s office said Shop with a Cop shows children that law enforcement officers are human and it’s OK to approach them without the fear of getting into trouble.

The program involves foster kids and underprivileged children It helps kids who may not have both parents and need a positive influence in their lives, less fortunate children who are hurting financially, and children who just need a little support.

The children participating this year will be in children entering kindergarten through fifth grade this year. The program is for children in all Audrain County, not just in Mexico.

The program is held in December. “We will take them shopping in December around Christmas time,” said Burson.

The children will be given a $100 Walmart gift card and it is theirs to do with it as they please. “I participated in the Shop with a Cop program with an agency I worked for in southern Missouri. The most memorable child that sticks with me was a young man in fourth or fifth grade. He spent his whole $100 on clothes, food, and gifts for his family members. He did not buy anything for himself,” stated Burson. “After speaking with the other officers involved that night, we each donated some money to him so he could pick out a few gifts for himself,” he added

The sheriff’s department is also taking donations from the community. Donations may be sent to Graf and Sons in Mexico. Checks need to be made out to Audrain County Auxiliary Fund.

“Our goal this year is to raise as close to $5,000 as we can. This will give us enough money to help 50 children in Audrain County,” Burson said.

It has long been noted that relationships between the law enforcement and civilian communities, particularly within the last several years, have been very strained. Burson said the intent of the Shop with a Cop program is to address the issue of repairing and making these strained relationships better. From a functional standpoint, it is felt that to address this issue the place to start is with the younger kids, grades K-5. Shop with a Cop hopes to break down the barriers between the community and the police with the intent of developing a better and more trusted relationship.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. In the case of the Shop with a Cop program, it can also be easy. The holidays are the perfect time for officers to reach out to kids and create a fun and happy memory of the season that can last a lifetime. It doesn’t require a lot of management, money, or manpower and it gives the community and officers alike the opportunity to connect in a positive and fun environment.

Quite often, a child’s initial interactions with law enforcement officers are not under the most uplifting conditions. The Shop with a Cop event offers a simple opportunity at the holidays to join law enforcement in a fun and positive way with children in need.

Burson said It is not uncommon to be approached by other shoppers whose hearts are moved by what they see while they are shopping with the children; cheerful police officers with children carrying toys and smiling moms all discussing the finer features of a football, Legos set, or a doll. Frequently, these passersby donate cash on the spot to support the positive vibes and interactions they are witnessing. The ripple effect of this short and simple occasion is immeasurable. The end results are young children making positive connections with men and women in law enforcement during the holiday season.

“With your help and support, we believe this Christmas season we can provide an awesome experience to a few of the children in Audrain County,” he said.

To help raise money for the program, Sheriff Matt Oller has made a temporary policy change to the Audrain County Sheriff’s Office uniform and appearance policy. The policy change comes as an effort to raise money for the Audrain County Sheriff’s Office Shop with a Cop program.

Sheriff Oller will allow male staff members to wear “neatly trimmed” facial hair from September 1, through December 1, in exchange for a monthly donation to Shop With a Cop. The policy change also allows female staff members the ability to wear “casual clothing” one day per week during the same time frame in exchange for their donation to the program. Sheriff Oller has spoken with other sheriffs in the area, such as Sheriff Matt Schoo at Montgomery County, and Sheriff Kevin Harrison at Warren County, who both do something similar and have good results with donations from their staff. “It’s a worthwhile cause and allows each member who wants to participate some visual ownership in the program” Sheriff Oller said. Sheriff Oller wants the public to be aware of the temporary policy change since the standard policy allows no facial hair, and the public is used to seeing deputies and staff members cleanly shaven.

By Brenda Fike | Mexico Ledger