Roeland Park brightens holiday season for 24 families with first ever ‘Shop with a Cop’ event

Police officers escorted a group of kids on a shopping trip at the Roeland Park Walmart Thursday as part of the department’s first ever Shop with a Cop event.

A few Roeland Park Police officers added another item to their uniforms on Thursday: Santa hats.

Northeast Johnson County is no stranger to “Shop with a Cop” events, and now, neither is Roeland Park. The city hosted its first “Shop with a Cop” event on Thursday evening. The event allows children from the area to buy holiday gifts for themselves and their family members. Sgt. Clifford Chaffee, who spearheaded the event, said Roeland Park was ready to do its part.

“We don’t have a big department, we don’t have a big Walmart, but gosh dang it — we can still do the same thing,” Chaffee said.

To fund the gift purchases, Chaffee applied for and was awarded a $2,500 local community grant from Walmart. Chaffee worked with the Shawnee Mission School District to come up with a list of 23 elementary-aged children who would participate. One child was chosen by the police department’s administration team, because he frequently visits the department and dreams of becoming a police officer, he said.

The department allotted about $100 per child, but if they went over that limit, Chaffee said the department took care of it.

“A lot of these families, in all reality, wouldn’t be able to do this for their kids,” Chaffee said. “There were a couple of families that, when they were notified they were selected, it was very emotional, because this is huge.”

Although giving back is an important piece, there’s more to “Shop with a Cop” than presents, Chaffee said. The former school resource officer said part of the role of a community policing officer is to bridge the gap between youth and law enforcement. Interactions such as “Shop with a Cop” offer tomorrow’s leaders a different perspective on policeman, he said.

“Most interactions people have with police officers, let’s be honest, aren’t good,” Chaffee said. “If the police are there, something’s wrong. That’s just the nature of the business, but in a case like this, it gives [kids] an opportunity to see us as humans.”

Roeland Park police officers were joined by officers from Mission and Westwood, after Chaffee reached out for a set of extra helping hands. Westwood Chief of Police Greg O’Halloran said other officers showing up is emblematic of the relationship and support between cities in the area.

Chaffee said the event came together within a matter of weeks, and expects Roeland Park will continue to host a “Shop with a Cop” event every year.