Fraternal Order of Police Local 89 police officers went on a Christmas shopping spree Sunday.

They weren’t purchasing holiday gifts for their own families, however. About 50 officers and about two dozen other volunteers helped 130 income-eligible children during the annual Shop With a Cop program. That’s when police help kids find what they’re looking for, then pick up the tab.

Each child was able to receive $200 to $250 worth of toys, clothing and other items from the westside Walmart on Merchant’s Mile, organizers said.

It was a record-breaking number of participating police officers and volunteer assistants, said long-time event organizer Alan Trisler, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Local 89 president.

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The children’s shopping assistants came from the Columbus Police Department, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. A few town marshals also helped out during the four-hour event, Trisler said.

“A lot of shoppers were a bit surprised when they pulled into the parking lot and saw so many marked police cars there,” Trisler said. “They were so relieved to find out there was something good going on.”

The large turnout of police meant no child had to wait long for an officer to begin their shopping spree.

“We had officers waiting on the children this year,” said Caitlyn Gross of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

As in previous years, store cashiers who normally are off on Sundays volunteered to come in and run two check-out lanes devoted exclusively to Shop With A Cop, Gross said.

Financially, the Fraternal Order of Police was well prepared for the event.

Two donors came forward in the month preceding the event and pushed the organization over the top of its $40,000 goal, Trisler said. In addition, several shoppers gave contributions as the event was going on.

One reality that emerges every year is that most young male officers are simply not experienced shoppers for children’s items — especially when they have a little girl in tow on a shopping spree, Gross said.

For that reason, female volunteers accompanied recently hired officers to ensure details such as correct sizes, styles and options desired by the child were obtained, Gross said.

Shop With a Cop supports an additional 200 children served by the Columbus Behavioral Health Center, the Parkside Early Education Program and other community youth initiatives.

In part, Shop With A Cop is designed to provide children a positive experience with law enforcement, which Trisler said is now more important than ever.

With the increase in opioid abuse among adults, establishing positives relationships between young people and police has a potential payoff later on. Shop With a Cop can establish trust and help youngsters make the right decisions as they are growing up, or know where to go for help if they need it, Trisler said.

Shop With A Cop history

Bartholomew County police officers began providing holiday shopping excursions to children on an annual basis about 35 years ago, Fraternal Order of Police Local 89 president and long-time event organizer Alan Trisler said. However, there are earlier records of policemen and policewomen taking children on shopping sprees when law enforcement was part of the local Cheer Fund campaign, he said.

The current format of the program has been followed since 1994.

Similar events are held in several other communities throughout the country.

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