Shop With Cop event builds friendships

December 21, 2017

Nineteen lucky students from across the Merced City School District traded in their normal yellow school bus for a special police escort to Merced Mall as a reward for their dedication to scholastic achievement during Thursday morning’s Shop with a Cop event.

The ninth annual event was once again organized by the Merced Police Department, the Merced Mall, and Merced City School District. They pair students from throughout the Merced area with one of Merced’s men and women in blue for a day of fun, food, and holiday shopping.

Each dynamic duo went to Center Court to have a private session with Santa Claus, complete with photos. Later, students set off to shop till they dropped in pursuit of the perfect presents for their family members and gifts for themselves.

Each student received $150 to spend as they completed their holiday shopping. Once each student’s Christmas shopping was complete for the holiday season, everybody made their way over to a holiday themed eating area where officers dined alongside of their young partners over a special meal provided by McDonalds.

Children who participate in the event are chosen in part by school principals who look for those who are experiencing special circumstances. Among the many students chosen was 14-year-old Edrian Figueroa of Cruickshank Middle School. Three months ago, Figueroa made his way to Merced in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of his hometown in Puerto Rico. With his mother and sister by his side, Figueroa has fully embraced the community and found himself a spot on the basketball team. Excited to now be in California, he went on to say he is grateful to be here, as he was faced with a lack of running water, electricity, food and other resources in his hometown.

Officer Raquel Rios, who shopped alongside of him, described the teen as an incredibly thankful young man who is grateful for all of the opportunities he has.

It’s not just the students who benefit from the experience, however. The event also serves as a way for Merced Police Officers to reconnect with the community, and particularly its youngest residents, in a low-stress environment to remind themselves of why they became a police officer.

“Every child we get, they’re very humble kids,” explained Officer Rios. “I remember what it’s like not to have, to be a government kid, and getting free cheese. It kind of puts you in a position back where you can remember those things. But to now, as an adult, be able to come back and give to them, it’s really something that make me feel like it’s come full circle.”

She went on to say that in particular she finds the connections formed between the young students and officers to be particularly valuable as they form a human bond and see them in a positive light.

“It shows them that whatever rank we are, we are human beings, and we can all relate to them,” Rios said.

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