More than 600 kids ranging in ages 4-14 were able to take part in the annual Shop With A Cop event, which took place at the Covington Walmart Dec. 8.
Shop With A Cop was hosted by the King County Sheriff’s Office and is an event that gives children who are in need an opportunity to shop with a police officer for a Christmas present.
According to Covington Police Chief Andrew McCurdy, Shop With A Cop got its start around 20 years ago because of a few extraordinary men.
“(King County Sheriff’s Office) Sgt. Reid Johnson, (Maple Valley Police) Detective Jeff Johnson and a Maple Valley business man named Steve Lynch came up with the idea. They basically kind of started doing fundraising to raise money for kids in needs, and then they would pair those kids up officers to shop for Christmas gifts. Over the years it went from a really small program and it’s just grown and grown over the years,” McCurdy said.
According to McCurdy, each year children from all over King County go to the Walmart in Covington to go shopping with a cop.
He said about half of the children who participate are referred by schools or social workers, while the other half of the children are referred by law enforcement or officers who have come across families with children in need of a little Christmas pick-me-up.
“We end up seeing a lot of kids year to year because sometimes they have an ongoing need. One of the goals is to bring awareness to it and help people realize how many kids there are in this area that need that help,” McCurdy said.
This year alone was not only a success in the amount of children who attended the event, but also the amount of law enforcement personnel who volunteered their time to help out during the event, according to McCurdy.
He said there were 135 people from law enforcement there, and 105 of them were uniformed police officers. The rest were police employees.
McCurdy said there were law enforcement officers from all over King County including King County Sheriff, Covington Police, Maple Valley Police, Black Diamond Police, Seattle Police, University of Washington Police and about 16 other agencies that were there during Shop With A Cop.
“We just reach out to all of our friends and coworkers and try to recruit as many people as we can get. The bulk of them are from King County,” McCurdy said.
He said they also partnered with Mary’s Place, which is a homeless shelter in Seattle, and a lot of the children living in their facilities were able to take part in Shop With A Cop.
This year, each kid was able to spend $50 on their mini shopping spree with their police buddy.
McCurdy with a laugh said he’s no good at math, but with over 60o kids getting $50, that’s quite a bit of money.
“Most of the funds this year and for about the last 15 years, the Maple Valley Rotary has been the primary fundraiser for the program,” he explained. “They just do an exceptional job. The Maple Valley Rotary also helps with logistics and setup, and throughout the year have helped with the planning and so forth. So now, like I said, Reid and Jeff Johnson started it and the last years I’ve been helping.”
According to Maple Valley Rotary’s website, Shop With A Cop is also made possible by King County Activities League, Covington Rotary, Black Diamond Kiwanis Club and dozens of personal and professional donations.
In all the years he’s been participating in Shop With A Cop, McCurdy said he’s never seen a negative experience.
“I think the size of it this year was amazing. Before this year, 500 kids was the most we ever served, so adding 144 kids on there, I mean when you see the line of kids from the backside of Walmart all the way down into the Post Office and they’re standing there in the cold, and to see the smiles on their faces, it’s a great event. I think this year if no other reason than the size of the event, I think it was great,” he said.
McCurdy said this event is important to not only spread Christmas cheer, but to also trying to build relationships and trust between cops and the public.
He said sometimes people have a negative experience with government or law enforcement and look at those agencies in a negative way from that point on, and they’re trying to change that.
“Whatever we can do to try and build relationships and trust between cops and the public outside of those times of crisis I think is going to help everyone. To have a positive interaction with a police officer in uniform that’s giving up their own time, not only helps the public have a better perspective of us, but as cops it also helps us keep a positive perspective. It’s really easy in our job to become jaded and start to see that people aren’t always happy to see the police arrive and that can make us frustrated or less empathetic and I think seeing people in this situation kind of reminds us why we got into this job and so on,” McCurdy said. “But on the other side as well, if people recognize police officers as good people trying to give back to the community, then when they’re in crisis they’re going to hopefully be a little more open and able to talk to us and look to us when they need it.”
He also added that Walmart was helpful with the whole event. He said their staff go way out of their way to make this a special day for the kids.
Looking back on that special day, McCurdy said his favorite part is seeing kids have a positive interaction with a police officer.
“Feeling better about themselves and feeling better about how we view them and also seeing that in the cops as well, the change of perspective I think is impactful for everyone involved,” he said.