Hundreds participate in annual Kids and Cops event - Tucson News Now

Hundreds participate in annual Kids and Cops event

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Hundreds of Tucson police officers showed up at the Target on Oracle Road early Saturday morning. The parking lot was filled with police cars, SWAT trucks, and men and women in blue.

Nobody was in trouble though. It was all part of the Tucson Police Officer Association's Kids and Cops event, held every year to bring Christmas cheer to families of underprivileged children in Tucson.

Three hundred families lined up outside Target starting at 7 a.m. Santa along with Mrs. Claus paid a special visit and greeted children.  Naughty or nice, everyone got a gift this year.

Inside the store about 150 police officers lined up, ready to take the children shopping.

"All of these officers are here on their own time. This is either their time off or they're coming straight from work so they've put in a ten hour shift and now they're here donating their time," said TPOA president Officer William Bonanno.

Officers who were participating in the annual event said they were happy to be putting in free overtime to serve their community.   

"It's an opportunity to work with kids on a different level. Some of them see you out in the field and this is an opportunity to go around and let them see a human side of you as well," said Officer Diana Lopez.

Each child got $100 to spend and was paired up with a Tucson Police officer who took them shopping. The opportunity was a blessing for many families who find themselves struggling during the holiday season.

"I do construction, it always gets slow this time of year for us, real slow," said dad Homero Villalobos. He felt lucky that both of his sons, 10-year-old Angel and 8-year-old Javier got this opportunity of a lifetime.

His gift was seeing the excitement and smiles on his children's faces.

In addition to gifts, officers hoped the kids would leave with a new sense of the words "police officer."

"The biggest message I want them to get is that we really are here for them. We're here to serve them," said Tucson Police Officer Jonathan Alameda.

The only encounter many children have with police officers are when something bad happens.  They may have seen officers show up at their home to respond to a domestic incident, or an assault. They may have seen officers arrest a family member. 

"These kids will see that an officer is not a bad person. We're here to help them and share with them the joy of this time of year," said Tucson Police Officer Ysela Welding.

Welding had the tough job of going through all the applications and choosing the 300 children who would participate in the event. 

She said she started the process in August.  Many of the children who were selected were nominated by police officers who had encountered them during a call, and knew the tough situation their families were in.

"We're out there everyday.  The officers know these kids and their families," said Welding.

8-year-old Javier Villalobos was impressed. He said he wanted to be a police officer when he grows up. We asked him what he thought about police officers.

"I think they're friendly, except when people are making wrong choices," said Villalobos.

Like any young child many of the children were drawn to the toys and the video games, but officers said it always touched their hearts when they saw the kids spending most of their money on clothes and things they know they needed, rather than wanted.

"Many times we have to prompt them to make sure they get a toy to take home. Lot of times they ask if they can buy something for a relative. It always breaks your heart," said Bonanno.

Community donations helped make the event possible.

The Kids and Cops event has been taking place in Tucson for 15 years.  For more information about the event, log onto www.tpoa.org.

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