Santa’s Cops brings holiday season cheer to Joliet children
It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas for about 80 children, thanks to Joliet Police.
Members of the police department, joined by volunteers, set out to help families get into the spirit of the holiday season Dec. 9 during its annual Santa’s Cops.
The program is designed to give children in need a chance to go Christmas shopping with cops, as well as build community relations.
“It’s hard to measure [the impact,] of course, but what we do is we have officers that look throughout the year for truly needy families, and then around Christmastime, we reach out to those families to try to provide for the kids,” Police Chief Brian Benton said. “If they have contact with the family say, through a domestic incident at the house, maybe through a call or an arrest, we make mental note of that. We’ll go back and try to interact with that family on a more positive note, saying ‘Would you like to be part of our Santa’s Cops program?’”
Joliet Police also works with community centers, such as Forest Park and Warren-Sharpe, to identify children who could benefit from the program.
Benton said the event has a powerful way of showing members of the community that cops care.
“Everyone should be proud that our officers value the relationship with the community like that, and like I said, it’s obvious with the number of people who turned out,” he said.
Santa’s Cops has evolved over time. Years ago, the program was dubbed Shop with a Cop.
“It is [essentially a name change,] but the theory is the same: police officers partnering with kids, taking them shopping, building those bonds,” Benton said. “It’s the single event the Joliet Police Department sponsors throughout the years. It’s the only charity event that we organize specifically for the Joliet Police Department.”
Benton said seeing sworn officers on hand for the program is always a positive.
“It’s a volunteer event, so I’m always surprised to see how many officers are going to turn out for it, but I’m very happy to see that we have more officers than kids this year,” he said.
The program involves a number of moving parts that make it possible year after year.
“It’s been growing [in participation] each year, but so is the dollar amount that we’re able to spend on the kids,” Benton said. “I’d say probably 5, 6 years ago, we were at $75 per kid. Because of the generosity of the community and the success of all the officers in generating sales of the [Santa’s Cops] pin, we’ve moved that up to now I think there’s $125 per kid. The number of kids has grown, too.”
Benton said there’s a great need for the program, and it’s unfortunate that Joliet Police cannot do more.
Donations from local businesses and others help to support the effort.
Benton wanted to thank Walmart, Dunkin’ Donuts, civilian staff, volunteers, retirees, sworn officers, members of the community, Sgt. Larry Collins and Officer Frank Coleman for their support.
“It’s starting to snow,” Benton told the children in the crowd. “You know what that means? Christmas is coming soon, right? You have to have snow on the ground for Santa to land his sleigh, right? Christmas is going to be here real soon.”