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More relaxed COVID rules enable officers and kids to spend time together at stores again

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY PRINEVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT - For the past three years, the Prineville Police Department and Crook County Sheriff's Office have teamed up to host the Shop with a Cop program. Law enforcement personnel ride buses with 10 selected kids to go gift shopping for loved ones. The program is essentially back to normal in 2021 after COVID rules forced a virtual version last year.

Local law enforcement personnel are looking forward to hosting another Shop with a Cop program this holiday season that should be mostly back to normal.

They managed to host the event last year, but due to the COVID pandemic and associated protocols, they had to substantially dial back the way it was conducted.

"This year will be our third year, and we are going to be using the school buses, driving over to Walmart, coming back and wrapping all of our gifts at the Elks (Lodge) like we did the first year," said Prineville Police Sgt. James Peterson, who led the effort to launch the program locally in 2019. "For 2020, we did a heavily modified version, where we went and picked up the kids, but we went to the police department."

Peterson said that an officer joined each kid with help from other staff members and shopped online for Christmas presents for family members.

"It worked well," he said. "It just lacked that engagement time we would have had if we went over and shopped together and rode the bus and sat down and had dinner while the presents were being wrapped."

Peterson spearheaded an effort with Crook County Sheriff's Office personnel to start a local Shop with a Cop program after years of the agencies supporting and participating in a Deschutes County-led program. The intent was the for the local law enforcement organizations to connect with Crook County kids and enable them to buy gifts for their loved ones.

This year, they have selected kids from 10 families and will board buses and hit the stores on Dec. 16. When they return, volunteers will wrap the gifts and help serve the meal as cops and kids get acquainted in a friendly setting.

"The main reason why we do this is so that the kids here can have a non-law enforcement contact with a police officer and learn that they are human too. They are just normal people who have families and live and work here," Peterson explained. "A good portion of the kids who are chosen for Shop with a Cop come from some tough circumstances and may have had law enforcement in their past and sometimes have negative outcomes."

While the children for the 2021 Shop with a Cop program have been chosen and the volunteer force for the effort is already in place, Peterson said that the program is still accepting monetary donations, which they have relied on to keep the program going since its inception a couple years ago. "The community has repeatedly stepped up and supported it," he said. "Even in trying times, our community has always stepped up."


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