Shoppers gazed curiously at the police vehicles and officers standing at the front of Target on the morning of December 16. Upholding a yearly tradition, The Harlingen Police Department was there to host the 6th Annual Shop with a Cop event.
The event allowed 57 students an opportunity to shop with a police officer.
“We give them $100 to buy whatever they want,” Chief of Police Michael Kester said. “We let the school district pick out the children. Most kids don’t have that kind of money to just go out and buy whatever they want, so it’s a great experience for them. You are surprised that the majority of them don’t just buy stuff for themselves. They will buy for their brothers, sisters, and even their parents. It’s a great program, and I enjoy doing it every year.”
Patrol Sergeant Michael Brooks greeted students, near the entrance to the store, dressed in a blue Santa suit and a white beard.
“It’s a great opportunity to spend time with kids,” Brooks said. “It’s an opportunity for the public to see us as humans who care about people and want good things for people, as opposed to just giving tickets or putting people in jail and things like that. Due to COVID, we had certain restraints, but still, we do the best we can with what we got.”
Although some adjustments were made to the event to ensure everyone’s safety, genuine joy could be observed throughout the store as police officers paired up with students to begin shopping. They made small talk about sports and other interests as they walked around the store.
“We are here supporting the citizens of Harlingen and establishing a better relationship with our youth,” Officer Yesenia Vega said as she pushed a shopping cart filled with toys.
Stuart Place Elementary fifth-grader Sonny Zamarripa walked beside Officer Vega and in the cart were a basketball, a football, and a couple of other items.
“I bought some clothes and shoes too,” Zamarripa said.
When asked what he wanted to say to the Harlingen Police Department for the opportunity, Zamarripa said, “I want to say thank you and that I want to be a cop when I grow up.”
While some students spent most of their time in the toy section, others looked in various departments throughout the store for their purchases.
Rodriguez Elementary fifth-grader Regina Martinez dedicated most of her time looking for gifts to give her family.
“I am buying something for my sister, my brother, my mom, and my dad,” Martinez said. “Maybe I will buy a barbie for me. For my brother, he loves anime, so I bought him an anime character. I bought my sister a coloring book because she loves to color. For my dad I am going to buy something because he is a boss in an office, and for my mom maybe some earrings.”
After the Target shopping spree, students were treated to a movie at Cinemark 16.
“This is the epitome of a partnership,” Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos said. “When we have the police department working alongside our kids, it shows them that the police officers are friendly, they are approachable, and it allows them to work together during this Christmas Holiday Shop with a Cop event. We are super proud of our Harlingen PD and of course our Chief who helps coordinate all of this. We want to say thank you to him and to the children who are the benefactors, and to all the people who donated. This is an incredible event, and it shows the support of the community for the Harlingen school district.”