If Santa’s helpers were real, they’d probably be police officers in Chester, Darby Township and Folcroft. Like many other departments among Delaware County’s 49 municipalities, these each exuded holiday spirit by giving back to their communities and at a time when relations between communities and their police are national matters of concern.
“There is a negative perception of police; we’re even used as a threat,” Darby Township Police Chief Regina Price said.
Last week, Chester police officers creatively gave away 100 turkeys in the span of two hours. According to Acting Police Commissioner Otis Blair, residents were pulled over; but instead of receiving tickets, they were given turkeys, purchased at the expense of Chester police, for their safe driving habits.
“It felt really good to give back,” Blair said, adding that he and other members of the police department initially raised the suggestion to City Council.
In Darby Township, Price implemented the police department’s first-ever “Shop with a Cop” program, through a partnership with Darby Township School and Walmart in Glenolden. Five students from the school were each given $100 gift cards to Walmart for a shopping excursion with Darby Township police officers at the department store and were later treated to lunch.
The children were also told to spend the money in a virtuous, self-less manner; $75 had to be spent on family, leaving the youngsters with the remaining $25 to indulge.
“The kids got a chance to meet the officers through a very positive interaction,” the chief said. “The police also helped them wrap their gifts to their families.”
Though the program is new, next year, according to Price, it will soar by accommodating 25 children.
“Our goal is to increase the number of kids to be able to shop with a cop,” the chief said.
Positive interactions also promote and build strong, healthy relationships between pillars of the community– citizens, police, schools and local businesses.
For the last decade, Folcroft Police Department has been providing residents experiencing financial insecurities with items ranging from food, clothing, and toys for children during the Christmas season.
The effort, created by Sgt. Chris Eiserman and officer Dan White, starts as far back as November.
As a reporter walked into Borough Hall to the police department, one of the hallways was littered with toys and White was seen busy at work.
“Sgt. Eiserman does a lot of the planning and officer White does the running around,” Folcroft Police Chief Robert Ruskowski said. “We’ll go from anywhere like a meal, (perhaps) turkey and stuffing, and toys for kids; it works through word of mouth from sources.”
Ruskowski said once a tip is dropped by a vigilant resident, an officer will make a phone call to the family in need to ask for a list of items and, once provided, officers make their shopping rounds to local businesses, which are also in on the good deeds.
The police chief explained that many officers do their shopping in conjunction with working their usual, 12-hour shifts and, during the holiday season, shopping for their own families. Despite the stresses of police work and personal holiday shopping, the officers still, Ruskowski said, make shopping for residents the priority.
Ruskowski said, “It’s very tough for the officers, but they juggle it; I allow them to take time off for work, not for themselves, but to shop for the program.”
Folcroft Police Department’s latest act of generosity included purchasing furniture for a family that called for an ambulance for their infant that was unresponsive. Sadly, the child died, even after a responding officer provided CPR, but the officer realized the family “was hurting,” as Ruskowski described it; suspecting that the family had been sleeping on the floor due to the absence of furniture in the home.
“It really shook the guys up,” the chief said. “It’s a shame what that family had to go through to get help, such a huge loss, I couldn’t imagine.”
Bringing light to a somber situation in the form of beds and toys, the officers brought their gifts by way of a procession of patrol cars; one of the cars had Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus as passengers.
“The family was on the lawn crying, they were so happy,” Ruskowski said. “One of the kids screamed, ‘A bed!’ when we were bringing it into the house.”
Local police departments making these strides to engage their communities presents another side to the intricacies of police work by revealing the heavily-pushed concept by many law enforcement agencies across the nation known as “community policing.”
“This is to show we’re not out there just arresting people or only responding to traumatic situations,” Price said. “Police are trying to engage their community and children; we are trying to get back with the community and give back as well.”
Mirroring Price’s sentiments, Ruskowski said these interactions also help repair perceptions held by children who have witnessed parents being arrested, by showing local police as being unbiased.
“It’s for the kids; we don’t look at them differently because of their parents’ run-ins with the police; it’s not the kids’ fault,” Ruskowski said.