'Shop with a Cop' pairs kids, West Palm Beach police in toy shopping spree – Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH — The city of West Palm Beach loosed hundreds of children through the aisles of Walmart on Wednesday, each helping themselves to as many toys as they could fit in a shopping cart. Uniformed police officers followed close behind — but not to keep order. Instead, they raced the aisles, too, part of the commotion.
“You’re making me want to get a bouncy ball,” said Officer Josh Hall, who’s been with the police department for almost eight years.
Beside him, 7-year-old Donel Pierre Jr. of West Palm Beach batted the ball away from Hall’s outstretched arm, igniting a game of keep-away beside the coffee aisle.
Wednesday’s shopping spree was one of a handful of December events dubbed “Shop with a Cop,” held each year across Palm Beach County and the nation. They’re intended to brighten the holidays of local families in need and foster a positive relationship between givers and recipients.
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Officers accompanied each family through the store at 45th Street, mulling with teens over which bike looked coolest, which T-shirt cleverest. Some ducked behind toy aisles with their kid shopper, waiting to spring and shout when a parent or fellow officer walked by.
“He’s going to get it good,” promised one officer, poised to throw a stuffed bear at a colleague.
Donel was one of 318 children nominated by their teachers to participate in the night’s event. He led Hall and his mother through the aisles methodically, stopping at the unicorn-themed toys that his 2-year-old sister Melody would have chosen for herself had she been old enough to participate. He chose them for her.
Hall made note of each selection, punching the prices into his iPhone calculator and flashing the screen at Donel’s mother as the total neared $300. He lost track eventually, too slow to keep up with the second-grader’s grab-and-dash approach to tackling each aisle.
Hall shrugged once, then joined a child practicing a TikTok-style dance for an audience of superhero figurines.
“I’ve already gone viral on TikTok once,” Hall told the boy, who looked dubious.
The money allocated to each family depended on the number of children and their ages, said Valerie Moore, the police department’s volunteer coordinator. Gifts for younger children tend to be less expensive than those for older ones, she said.
The bells on her red-and-green elf costume jingled each time she hurried to approve a purchase at one of the two check-out lines Walmart cordoned off for the event. Within an hour, they’d sanctioned off two more to accommodate the influx of children.
Moore would oversee the purchase of $50,000 worth of merchandise by the night’s end, courtesy of The Fund for West Palm Beach Police. The nonprofit relies on support from a few mega-wealthy donors and charitable community members to fund events like Wednesday’s.
Grocery shoppers often paused when they stepped inside Walmart and saw the officers standing there, arms folded above their weapons belts. Only when Santa Claus, who might’ve worn his own badge beneath the red suit, sauntered over for photos did they shrug and carry on.
In the back of the store, a 5-year-old girl led Officer Demetrius Latham Jr. through the maze of toys, teaching him about LOL dolls and Barbie dolls, and swiping art materials along the way. It’s a familiar ritual to him now — one that began 20 years earlier, when deputy Gerald Bates accompanied 12-year-old Latham through a Kentucky toy store.
He was a balding older white man, Latham said, short and stocky and hilarious; nothing like the stoic enforcer Latham believed cops to be. His kindness that day helped cement Latham’s desire to join law enforcement and replicate the experience for others.
“Policing is more than going out and locking folks up,” said Latham, now 32. “It’s really about being a part of the community and finding different ways to give back.”
He’s searched for Bates over the years, he said, hopeful that the two might one day reconnect.
Police Chief Frank Adderly stood back from the masses most of the evening, his arms folded as children urged their parents and police officers onward. It’s a great thing, he said, to see the community and police department get along like this. Great, and rare.
“We need to make a positive change,” he said as squealing children hurried past his legs. “I think about it every freaking day. That’s the biggest challenge for me, as the police chief. How am I going to build a strong community to turn this around?”
His expression, often serious, broke into a smile as new families flooded through Walmart’s sliding glass doors.
Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at hphillips@pbpost.com.


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