Beyond the badge
The time to RSVP for volunteering slots tends to expose Gresham Police Department's more competitive side.
Chief Robin Sells' policy is first-come, first-serve for community outreach events. So for a department that has completely embraced and expanded its involvement in positive engagements throughout the city, a quick email finger is a must to claim a spot for coveted opportunities like the one this past weekend.
"We recognize that it's important to be out in the community and have people see us in a different light," Sells said. "Our officers are really getting it."
On Saturday morning, Dec. 1, more than 28 officers took children around the Gresham Fred Meyer store for the annual Shop with a Cop event. Hosted by the Optimist Club of Gresham, the event pairs local kids in need of support during the holidays with motivated officers. The pairs work their way through the store at 2497 S.E. Burnside Road, buying Christmas gifts they otherwise wouldn't have received.
Each child, elementary school-aged and vetted by the Gresham Salvation Army, gets $100 to spend at Fred Meyer. There are doughnuts, orange juice, and lunch afterward at Burgerville, 2975 N.E. Hogan Drive.
"These kids want to get gifts for their families as well," Sells said. "It's not all about themselves."
The kids love to get stuff for their siblings and parents. One little girl had to buy a small Nerf Blaster for her brother, while another boy went in search of perfume to gift his mother. They understand the spirit of giving, and enjoy being able to share with their loved ones.
But of course, the shopping carts were filled with plenty of items for the youngsters themselves. There were stuffed animals, video games, board games, Legos, balls, dolls, clothes, shoes, purses, holiday decorations, candy, pillows and so much more.
"It's all about the kids," said Sgt. John Rasmussen.
No twisted arms
When Sells stepped into the police chief role two and a half years ago, breaking down barriers between her department and the community was an important goal. She admitted that in the past police leadership sometimes had to twist some arms to have the officers sign up for volunteer events.
But now, officers are coming up with their own ideas about how to give back to the community they serve.
"For us it has been 500 percent improvement from our efforts in the past," Sells said. "We have to come up with a solution for the narrative of racial bias and shootings (across the country)."
The department is participating in Project Give-a-Christmas through the Salvation Army this year. They are sponsoring six families for the holidays, buying gifts to help the parents fill the base of their trees. Two of the families have more than 10 people. And while that is a lot of kids getting gifts thanks to the Gresham police, the hope is to expand to even more families in the future.
The Gresham Police Officers' Association bought 60 turkeys through White's Country Meats to feed families this past Thanksgiving. The union also stepped up during Shop with a Cop, fundraising and donating to allow more children to participate this year.
Officers often take time to chat with community members informally and pass out stuffed animals to kids while on patrol.
"People here love to jump on these opportunities and are so generous," Sells said.
Kids at heart
All of the officers who spent their Saturday morning at Shop with a Cop, representing about 20 percent of the department, did so on their own time. Several were coming off graveyard shifts from the night before. But despite the lack of sleep, sometimes it was hard to tell who was more excited, the officers or the children.
It's not uncommon to see the officers running up and down the aisles in search of the best toys. And despite orders from the chief to behave themselves, impromptu games of soccer and catch broke out in the aisles.
Rasmussen connected with one of the little boys, Nacari, as his own daughter also is a fourth-grader. Many officers who donated their time brought along families with them, both for advice on the latest toy trends and to show the importance of giving back to the less fortunate.
While checking out, Sgt. Scott Hogan, who was shopping with Kevin, explained how they picked out a new pair of sneakers.
"His favorite color is blue, and they have lights in the heels," Hogan said, excitedly showing off what they found.
Gresham Fred Meyer is a great partner for the event, with employees pulling out all the stops to find the best deals to extend the children's budgets. In the rare cases when the final total surpasses $100, the officers will pay for the difference out of their own pocket.
"A number of the kids want to be cops themselves, and their parents were excited for them to have this positive interaction with the police," said Gresham Salvation Army Maj. Dianne Madsen.
With the success of recent community outreach events, Sells and the rest of the department are always looking for more ways to give back.
"A lot of these guys live in the community," she said, "so it's important for them to support it beyond the job."