Police take on a new beat -- shopping aisles

60 children are each paired with an officer to select $100 in gifts during Baltimore's third annual Shop With a Cop

December 18, 2005|By RONA MARECH | RONA MARECH,SUN REPORTER

Travis Robinson, 10 years old and perched in the front seat of a police car, had a few questions for his partner for the day, Baltimore police Officer Ron Starr.

What are the switches for? Do you work a night or day shift? Do you like doughnuts? Why are we stopping? ... We're police!

Then they were off, lights flashing, to the modern-day North Pole, also known as Wal-Mart. Travis' big dreams - world peace and a PlayStation Portable - weren't in the cards, but Starr was hoping to make a few of his young charge's less formidable Christmas wishes come true.

It was the third year of Shop With a Cop, a collaboration between the Baltimore Police Department and the Optimist clubs of Hamilton and Woodlawn. The social service organizations raised money so that 60 children from low-income families could spend $100 each at the Port Covington Wal-Mart. The police officers were there to ooh and ahh, check shoe sizes, veto adult-oriented DVDs, keep track of prices - and, most of all, to let out the Santas behind the uniforms.

"It's an opportunity to see their smiles, to give them a positive image of what we're like," said Sgt. Sheree Briscoe. "We're often portrayed negatively, and they don't get an opportunity to know us."

The police-kids shopping expedition idea was hatched in Virginia and is spreading around the country, said Mickey Price, a member of the Timonium Optimist Club. Her group helped organize an event yesterday for 100 children in Baltimore County; similar programs have been held in other Maryland towns, including Essex and Annapolis.

In Baltimore City, police and children gathered about 8:30 a.m., while the sky was still gray and soupy. Child met officer, officer met child. An organizer explained the $100 limit, and some kids gasped in delight. Then, with a Luther Vandross Christmas tune blaring tinnily from one of the cars and at least one officer letting a tear or two slip, they headed in a convoy for a big-box early Christmas.

Some children picked out one expensive item - a remote-control toy Hummer, a bicycle. Others started small, dropping pink nail polish, toy cars or Barbies into their carts. Many shopped for family members.

Spirit Singletary, 9, picked out Play-Doh, a coloring book, a CD player and a couple of games for her siblings. She found a necklace, a makeup kit and a carousel snow globe for her mother.

"Every year she doesn't get anything because she spends all her money on me and my brothers," she said. "She deserves something this year."

Thirteen-year-old Dejonnae Boyd, who wants to be a fashion designer and sagely pointed out that "you don't have to be in trouble to be with a cop," spent a long time gazing at sewing machines. "I'm just making sure it's the right one," she said, before wandering off to the toy section to find something for her younger brother to "say `vroom' with."

Before too long, the perfect sneakers, video games, jeans and Bratz dolls had been located. Police officers took out pens and calculated whether they had hit the $100 mark. The line of police officers snaked around a corner.

Travis, who had been flashing a lot of dimple from under the police cap Starr had lent him, selected two pairs of sneakers, a military camouflage-style shirt, black pants, two video games and a case for his Game Boy. He found a Mickey Mouse doll for his mother, a toy house for his sister and a set of three pans for his grandmother.

The gifts for his family sent him over the $100 limit, but Starr quietly said he would make up the difference.

The gifts were placed in plastic bags and labeled, the duo had their picture snapped with Santa - one on each leg - and it was off to a donated lunch at Outback Steakhouse in Canton.

"Merry Christmas everyone!" Travis shouted.

World peace would have been nice, but so were his new gifts. Back in the police car, he put on his new black-and-red Shaq sneakers, stuck his Game Boy in his new carrying case, and away they went.

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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