We’ve learned from Hollywood how irresistible it can be when opposites match up — tough, streetwise police officers and young children, for example.

Audiences witnessed that in feature films such as “Kindergarten Cop” (1990) with Arnold Schwarzenegger and “Cop and a Half” (2003) starring Burt Reynolds.

“It is a great contrast to see the little guy looking up at the big officer,” said Indiana State Police trooper Edward Olibo, who had a starring role in “Shop with a Cop,” which had a return engagement on Sunday.

That’s not another hit film, but a long-running program that has enabled local law-enforcement officials to pair up with children from families in need of a boost.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Rather than investigating a potential crime spree, participating officers in Shop with a Cop spend their day off take kids on a shopping spree.

While the event in its current format began in 1994, event chairman Lt. Alan Trisler said Shop with a Cop actually began at least 10 years before that.

Last weekend, the script again played out when police officers met at the west side Columbus Walmart and spent the afternoon helping about 130 children spend $200 on Christmas presents — on donors’ dime.

“Our purpose is two-fold,” said Trisler, who is president of the Fraternal Order of Police Local 89.

“First, it’s to provide for kids in need. Second, we provide them a positive experience with law enforcement. Each is equally important,” Trisler said.

CamRon Stillabower, 10, had no idea what type of toy he wanted. He seemed content just to get two new pair of blue jeans.

“He’s a great kid,” said Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputy Andrew Dougan, the youth’s shopping buddy. “He knows what he needs, and we’ll make sure he’ll have the clothes he needs to get through the winter.”

The Schmidt Elementary fifth-grader said he was appreciative of the participating police officers — and not just for helping him navigate the store aisles.

“If anything goes wrong, cops are there to protect everyone,” CamRon said. “I think they’re awesome.”

Elsewhere in the store, 6-year-old Bentley Newman couldn’t make up his mind in the toy aisle.

Would he pick the Rogue One Light Saber, Adventure Force Enforcer Belt Blaster or the Air Warriors Sidewinder?

Sometimes they just need a little nudge, Clifford Town Marshal Charlie Deweese said.

“While the first gal I took shopping today knew exactly what she wanted. The young ones take a lot of patience,” he said.

“It’s a lot of fun, and I thoroughly enjoy it.”

Sometimes parents who see a uniformed officer in a store will threaten to have their children arrested if they misbehave, said former Chicago patrolwoman Arlene Moffitt, now retired and living in Brown County.

“That really drives me nuts,” Moffitt said. “Programs like Shop With a Cop teach impressionable children we’re the good guys.”

When 10-year-old Faith Burns needed help choosing clothing and toys, Columbus police officer Bernard Sims recruited his teenage daughter, Jordan, to assist.

When Faith began to smile and giggle during the interaction, tears of joy began to well up in Melissa Worton’s eyes. Faith’s aunt said she has seldom seen her niece happy since the accidental death of her parents.

Besides helping victims of tragedies, Shop With a Cop assures children from households in distress that they will not be forgotten at Christmas, Trisler said.

He recalled one year when two young sisters arrived in sub-zero temperatures with one winter coat between them.

“Whenever one became too cold, her sister would hand over the coat for awhile,” Trisler said. “But by the time those girls left, they had a coat to spare.”

The generosity seemed to be contagious on Sunday, and not just among the police officers.

  • Host Walmart donated $2,000 to the program.
  • Store cashiers who normally are off on Sundays volunteered to come in and run two check-out lanes devoted exclusively to the four-hour event.
  • Just seconds after a donation jar was set up, twenty-dollar bills seemed to magically appear without anyone seeing who donated.
  • A few minutes later, one couple handled organizers a $100 bill.

“We want to bring the best out in people, and see that as our responsibility,” Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

By the numbers

$40,000: Goal for this year’s Shop with a Cop program, which the local campaign expects to hit after a Central Federal Credit Union fundraising campaign ends this week, Fraternal Order of Police Local 89 president Alan Trisler said.

130: Number of children taken on a shopping spree Sunday, similar to numbers from the prior two years.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.