Shop with a Cop brings a positive law enforcement presence into kids’ lives
With sirens blaring and lights flashing, about 30 different law enforcement vehicles gathered in the corner of the Laramie Walmart parking lot last week. There were more than a few concerned and confused looks as representatives from the Laramie Police Department, the University of Wyoming Police Department, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, the Wyoming Highway Patrol, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department parked. These officers and their elementary-aged passengers were part of Shop with a Cop. About 30 kids rode along with the officers to Walmart. Most were picked up from school and once they reached the parking lot, they were able to press the buttons and talk over the loudspeaker in the cars.
After getting to play with the buttons for a while, kids and cops gathered in the garden center for a quick group photo before they were set loose on the store.
The nationwide program came to Laramie in 2020.
“It's basically time for that officer and that child to develop a bond and the officer goes around the store with the kid and helps them pick out items that they may want, or in some cases need,” said Robert Carey, Laramie PD Deputy Chief and one of the organizers of the program.
Carey has been involved with the event since 2020. He said the kids each get a $150 gift card to purchase whatever they want from the store. Some kids go on a shopping spree for themselves, others buy Christmas gifts, and others buy winter gear.
“I saw a little girl buy a whole bunch of towels. They can literally purchase anything, including food if they really wanted to, but we let them know that they're getting some food items along with this,” said Carey. “So it's just, it's really wide open to what they want and what their needs are.”
Whatever money they have leftover on the gift card goes home with the kids.
By far the most popular area was the toy aisle. But some kids, like six-year-old Opal, checked out a couple areas of the store in search of gifts for others.
“I got a Barbie doll mermaid and a shadow high series too. I got paint supplies. Craft stuff. I got my grandma a sewing kit. And I got my grandpa some glue,” she said.
The officer with her, Officer Shaw, said Opal was so focused on getting gifts for others that she had to be reminded to look for something for herself.
There was a shared sentiment among the officers who were participating. As they helped the kids pick out their items and manage their budget, they felt like they were making a difference in these kids’ lives. Several officers have participated multiple times, and they inspired other officers to join the event, like Albany County Sheriff’s Deputy Hanover.
“Just the community outreach and the positive impact it has on the kids' view of law enforcement essentially, I just wanted to get involved,” he said. “I saw how positive the experience was for the deputies last year, so I just wanted to do it this year.”
The kids who participate are nominated by the school counselors, and the program tries to avoid having the same kids for multiple years, though they do sometimes have a couple siblings.
Every kid that participates also gets to take a picture with Santa and bring bags home that are filled with holiday foods that were donated by a local business and Walmart. There’s ham, stuffing, orange juice, green bean casserole, and more.
Donations and volunteers are a key part of how Shop with a Cop works. Walmart donates some money, plus they rope off a parking area, a couple check out stands, and transform the garden center into a massive gift wrapping station. Volunteers wrap gifts and hand out meal bags, even the local high school culinary class got involved by making cupcakes for the kids. The money also comes from donations from the community. The Laramie Police Department Foundation collects those year-round. Any leftover funds get donated to other nonprofits in the community.
A few hours later, when the money is spent, the gifts wrapped, and the food shared, the kids are picked up by their parents. Walmart returns to normal, but the Shop with a Cop organizers hope the kids and officers have been changed at least a little bit for the better.