Dressed in full uniform, Officer T. Williams of the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Public Safety stretched over a cart to help a nine-year-old reach a stuffed rainbow zebra on a top-shelf display at a local Walmart store. Williams was one of nearly 40 officers from Carolina’s Department of Public Safety, Chapel Hill and surrounding law enforcement agencies who recently took part in the 2016 Shop With a Cop event, sponsored by the Optimist Club of Chapel Hill.

Similar events across the country strive to connect children, especially those from a low-income backgrounds, with officers in their community.

“I think it’s important for us to talk with them on this level and make sure they understand we’re there to help them,” said Williams. “We get to play with them and they get to ask us questions.

Children from a local elementary school, selected by counselors and school resource officers, were paired with officer escorts to buy holiday gifts using an $75 gift card.

Once they were teamed up, the officers and students boarded a school bus and got to know each other better on their way to Walmart.

And once there, some of the shoppers’ choices surprised their officer companions.

“These kids aren’t just buying toys for themselves – they’re buying it for their brothers or sisters,” said R. Kay, and officer with the Department of Public Safety.

Indeed, at the check-out lines, carts were also filled with games for cousins and candles for moms.

And by the end of the trip, Investigator R. Oliver noted that children were not the only ones who took home a gift.

“Carolina is all about family and community, and this helps us connect with the community at large,” he said.

Story and video by Carly Swain, Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Published December 12, 2016

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