The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut remind us of just how vulnerable children are to violence. In Cleveland, police frequently come face to face with kids for whom violence is a fresh memory, either as witnesses or victims. Through a program initiated through the police union, they're able to help some of them have a merrier Christmas. ideastream's Bill Rice has more.
WELCOME: "Thank you everybody for coming today. This is our second annual shop with a cop..."
Just inside the entrance to Target at the Steelyard Commons Shopping Center in Cleveland, some 25 kids are ready to head back to the toy department - or the kids' clothing department, or the shoe department for a pair of new sneakers. They've each got 200 dollars to "shop with a cop," - pick whatever they want from the shelves, with an officer or detective at their side. Detective John Freehoffer works with the Domestic Violence Unit.
Freehoffer: All the kids here are either victims or witnesses from either domestic violence related cases or sexual related cases... or homicide cases.
Shop with a Cop is not new to the region. Created to help provide needy kids with a special holiday experience, numerous police departments participate each year. This one is aimed specifically at helping kids who have been subjected to violence or abuse - eather as witnesses or as victims. Most of these kids appear happy - and why not, with a major shopping spree at hand. But Freehoffer says for a kid, seeing or experiencing violence up close can be a precursor to trouble later in life if not addressed.
Freehoffer: We want to help them with the process of healing and give them special days like this . And we don't want the last thing that they see is the police coming to their house and taking their mother away or their father away from the house because of a domestic violence case.
After a brief welcome, the kids are off and running, up and down the aisles, picking out their gifts.
Police have to maintain a hard edge in their day to day dealings; here they're able to show their softer sides on the job. Detective Jeff Follner is President of the Patrolman's Association.
Follner: Yeah, we're friends, and we have hearts. We love these kids. You know, when you have kids as victims that's... those are the worst crimes. It hits every policeman when you see a kid go through any kind of stress. as far as any kind of crime out there, so it's nice that the police officer can re-unite right now and take them. It means a lot to the police officers.
The officers themselves raised the funds for the outing - some from friends and family, and, Follner says, from generous Browns fans.
We went down to the tailgates and they actually gave very generously, they gave probably over 18 hundred dollars in the pits down there. We're going to keep doing this and we're going to keep trying to build. You know, it'd be nice to get 100 kids in here someday.
Bill Rice, 90.3.