ROCKINGHAM — Four-year-old Messiah Spencer was scared to meet police officers on Wednesday.
His mother, Rene Spencer, said he was crying and “adamant about not going” to the third annual Shop with a Cop, but his 10-year-old brother, Tyrone, convinced him to come. Even then, Spencer had to stay close to her kids once they were at Twisted Treats with the officers.
“The news had my children scared of the police,” Spencer said. But Messiah and his sister, 8-year-old Forever, calmed down after patrol officer Jan Owens explained that the officers weren’t going to hurt them.
“Once they spend time with you, they realize you’re a person just like them,” Owens said. “If, later on, these kids get in a situation where they need help, we want them to know they can call us.”
Shop with a Cop pairs children with police officers for a trip to Twisted Treats for ice cream and a $200 shopping spree at Walmart. This year, Santa Claus was waiting for them at Twisted Treats — it was Messiah’s first time meeting Saint Nick, his mom said.
The children picked the officer they wanted to be paired with and rode in their police cars to each stop. The officers played their sirens for them, answered all their questions — to the best of their ability — and got to know them. The officer and a Walmart employee accompanied each child to help them use their money wisely.
Spencer had four children who participated in this year’s Shop with a Cop, and has four more at home. She said she’s going to have to redo some of her Christmas shopping because the four shoppers bought so many gifts for their siblings.
“This relieved half the burden,” she said.
The children who participate in the program are chosen by school counselors at L. J. Bell Elementary School based on financial need.
Maurice Lemon, 6, said he bought presents for his sister, mother and grandmother — but most of his presents were for him. His favorite present he got himself was a toy motorcycle with a man riding on it. He was paired with Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly who said he was a “smart shopper.”
“This is not an assignment that’s hard to get an officer to sign up to do,” Kelly said. “It’s something we look forward to every year.”
Serenity Spencer, 6, was the first one finished with her shopping by several minutes. Her officer, Detective Shawn Paxton, she had a “game plan” and went straight to the things she wanted. Serenity said she got lotion for her mom, but she bought a two-pack so that her sisters wouldn’t steal from their mom.
Her favorite gift she got was a karaoke machine that plays songs from the Disney movie “Frozen.” She wanted to get herself a specific cooking set but the store didn’t have it, so she’s going to ask her parents for it. Serenity went $30.11 over her $200 limit, but Walmart covered the remaining charge.
Paxton said he filled in for another officer who was sick the first year the department did Shop with a Cop, but he’s participated every year since.
“The public relationship (with police) builds on (Shop with a Cop),” Paxton said. “When kids see (Serenity) do this, they want to get selected, too.”
The event is supported by donations from Walmart, the Rotary Club, Cascade Tissue and Twisted Treats.
“They give us the tools to share this with these kids because they are our future,” Kelly said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.