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Shop With a Cop fosters connections that last much longer than one day

Posted: November 29, 2017

by Erica Peterson

 

From the first day Patrolman Jeff Kinney started with Hinckley Police around five years ago, he made sure he was able to continue his involvement with Shop With a Cop.

 

And he hasn’t slowed down since.

 

Shop With a Cop provides children with a gift card and a police chaperone to shop for Christmas presents. It aims to foster positive relationships between police officers and children. 

 

Kinney first got involved with the program 10 years ago, when he was a patrolman with Spencer Police. 

 

“I saw it as a way to give back,” he said. “I thought it was important for police officers to connect with kids in a non-threatening situation.”

 

The first year, two officers brought two children.

 

The next year, Kinney took the entire department. 

“I got bit by the bug,” he laughed. 

 

He credited his chief at Spencer, who was “100 percent behind me,” for helping the program grow. 

 

“I was very lucky,” Kinney said. “When I came to Hinckley, Chief [Tim] Kalavsky was exactly the same.”

 

When Kinney started with Hinckley Police, he was also president of the Medina County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 204. So, he decided to start a Shop With a Cop program there for the county’s departments. Before that, smaller departments coordinated with larger departments.

 

One of the things Kinney wanted to do was make the program more than just the shopping trip. 

 

“That was too short to really make a connection and get a relationship started between the child and the officer,” he said.

 

The program grew to include a breakfast beforehand and a lunch after.

 

Details of the day

 

This year’s Shop With a Cop is Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Blue Heron Banquet and Conference Center in Medina. Hinckley officers will meet the kids at the police department, drive them to Blue Heron for breakfast and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus and then take part in the lights-and-sirens parade to Walmart in Medina. Seventy to 100 police cars will make up the parade, Kinney said.

 

“The kids love that,” he said. “They get to sit in the front seat and cycle through all the siren sounds.”

 

Once they get to Walmart, each child gets a $100 gift card and a police escort to go shopping. Afterwards, the children will return to Blue Heron for lunch and gift-wrapping.

 

Some children shop for themselves, but Kinney said kids often spend the gift card on presents for their family.

 

“There is no right or wrong way,” he said. “It’s up to the kids as to how they want to spend the money.”

 

Officers are there to help the kids calculate how much they have spent. Often, Kinney said, the officers spend money out of their own pocket to help cover overages at checkout or supplement the shopping spree.

 

“One year, an officer bought a bike for a child who spent all their money on everyone else in their family,” Kinney said. 

 

“Those are the reasons the program is so valuable,” he said. “We get to see the best of humanity instead of the worst, which police officers see too often.”

 

Making connections

 

The kids chosen for the program are often financially disadvantaged, but that is not a requirement. 

 

“I look for children who had contact with police that need a positive interaction with law enforcement,” Kinney said.

 

For example, one year Kinney arrested a suspected car thief at his home when he heard crying and realized the man’s two young children were watching their father get arrested.

 

“I took those two to Shop With a Cop,” he said. “I needed to fix the damage done by what they saw.”

 

Kinney stayed in contact with them and took them back-to-school shopping as well. 

 

“I couldn’t have made that connection without Shop With a Cop,” he said.

 

A committee works year-round to make Shop With a Cop happen, Kinney said, getting donations and coordinating with volunteers.

 

As he is no longer FOP president, he is excited to actually shop with a child this year, something he hasn’t been able to do for years. It is those connections, those relationships, that Kinney cherishes.

 

Take Kyle, the first child he took shopping when Kyle was 14. He saw him several times after that, at community events, continuing their connection.

 

Flash forward five years, when Kinney responded to a crash where a drunken driver hit another driver head-on. Kinney crawled into the back seat of the victim’s car and held the driver’s head still while rescuers worked to extricate him.

 

It wasn’t until the driver was being carried to the ambulance on a backboard that he saw his face. 

 

It was Kyle.

 

“That was a rough night, bringing Kyle out of that car, not knowing if he would live or die,” Kinney said.

 

He did survive, and after a lengthy recovery was able to walk again.

 

About a year and a half after the accident, Kinney was working at a community event when Kyle, then in a wheelchair, approached him.

 

“He told me, ‘You have no idea what it felt like to see you. When I looked up and saw you, I knew I was going to be OK,’” Kinney said. “I said I didn’t do anything. He said, ‘You were there.’

 

“That contact happened because of Shop With a Cop,” he said. “It’s so much more than a single day. That’s why I became a cop, to make a difference. If that’s the only difference I ever make, I’ll take it.”

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