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Glendale police officers helped 10 Parkway Elementary students pick out holiday gifts as part of the police department's ninth annual "Shop With a Cop" event on Sunday, Dec. 4 at Bayshore Town Center. Jeff Rumage

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Glendale - For 10 third-graders at Parkway Elementary School, Santa didn't wear a red suit and a beard. Santa had a blue uniform and a badge.

For the ninth year in a row, the Glendale Police Department led students from Parkway on a $100 shopping spree at Kohl's in Bayshore Town Center on Sunday, Dec. 4. Police officers helped the kids brainstorm gift ideas, navigate through the store and make sure they stayed within their allotted budget.

After the shopping trip, the kids went bowling and ate complimentary snacks at iPic Entertainment's Pinstrikes bowling alley.

Glendale Police Chief Thomas Czarnyszka said the program, organized by school resource officer Kelly DeJonge, has been a success for nearly a decade because it stayed local.

"It's our officers, it's our kids and it's our partners in the community that come together and provide all of the fundraising and the sponsorship," he said. "It's good for the kids, it's good for the officers and it's good for the community. By keeping it small and keeping it local, it has more meaning for everybody."

Participating for the first time this year was officer Alex Simon. He was paired with a third-grader named Josh, who bonded with Simon by talking about Legos, Star Wars and his early love for cooking. His mother, Kristen Vetter, said Josh has been shopping with her many times, but he has never had the opportunity to lead the way, pick his own items and fill a shopping cart.

"Officer Simon was very positive and encouraging," Vetter said. "Overall it was a fabulous experience."

For his part, Simon said he was impressed with Josh's discerning taste and sensitivity to price.

"He seemed, to my surprise, to have an understanding on the price of things and what he wanted to spend his money on," he said. "I think we ended up with a good batch of gifts, and it was a nice positive experience."

This was officer Miguel Martinez' third year participating in the "shop with a cop" event. He said he plans to keep participating in the event every year.

"It's a great experience for us officers to give back to these kids," he said. "It takes only a few hours of our time to bring some joy to these kids' lives."

"Shop with a cop" events also help build positive relations in the community - and at a young age. These 10 students from Parkway were chosen by the school's guidance counselor because they may have needed an extra something special to brighten their holiday season.

The event also struck a chord with Kohl's shoppers, many of whom smiled as they watched the officers try to make conversation with the kids about American Girl dolls, Pokemon and Star Wars figurines. Those who didn't understand asked the officers what they were doing, and when they found out about the Shop With a Cop program, congratulated the officers on a job well done.

Martinez said interactions like this help bring the community together and give people a more accurate perspective of what community policing looks like.

"A lot of times they might just see cops on the news or pulling someone over or arresting someone. There's so much more that cops do," Martinez said. "These kids are going to remember that they went shopping with a cop, and they might tell their friends how it was a good experience for them. It's a good start. They will have a clear picture that cops do more than arrest people and also that not all cops are bad."

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