ANDERSON — Many of the children who will participate in this year’s Cops & Kids program have, through a variety of circumstances, had less than positive experiences with police officers.

Mike Lee looks forward to changing that.

Lee, in his 24th year as a member of the Anderson Police Department, is coordinating this year’s Cops & Kids event. He and more than 60 other officers — many of them fellow members of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 48 — are in the midst of raising funds for this year’s program. They’re hoping to exceed the $7,600 they raised last year, when 70 kids shopped for their own Christmas presents.

The department works with the Indiana Department of Child Services to select children to enjoy a shopping experience with an officer. In many cases, Lee says, those children have ended up in the care of DCS through police-involved incidents that may have been traumatic for them. The goal of Cops & Kids, he says, is to begin to replace those bad memories with better ones as the holiday approaches.

The Herald Bulletin met recently with Lee to learn more about the program and how Lee thinks its benefits extend beyond the children it helps.

THB: How did you get involved with the Cops & Kids program?

ML: “Initially it was just as an officer who helped and participated in the actual event itself. Since that time I’ve really gained a fondness for the program and have volunteered in the past to help with the actual fundraising committee.”

THB: The police department teams up with the Indiana Department of Child Services to select children to pair with officers for the shopping experience. Why is this approach important?

ML: “First of all, obviously we’re in a lot of people’s homes throughout our daily shifts, and we see a tremendous amount of need. However, it’s difficult for us to, in a brief encounter, truly know who’s the neediest in the community. In partnering with the Department of Child Services, we feel that they are in the best position to bring us the neediest in the community, and they spend quite a bit of time with these families and the children, so we use them exclusively to select the participants in the project.

“The other benefit that we see is unfortunately sometimes these children have been in an environment where there was possibly a less-than-positive interaction with police, possibly with a parent. It’s possible a police officer had to take a parent to jail for some type of incident — that’s an unfortunate byproduct of the job that we’re asked to do. So this is an opportunity for the children to see police officers in a different light, which is very important to us.”

THB: Is it fair to say that the participating children aren’t the only ones who enjoy the experience?

ML: “We hope that it’s very beneficial for the participating children. I can speak from experience to tell you it’s very beneficial for the officers. We have officers that are very active in community policing programs, with activities where they get that positive interaction. Your average police officer, however, has very limited opportunities for that. The Cops and Kids program is special to us because it’s our program — we raise the funds, we facilitate it happening, and we get to see it through, so it’s a very positive experience. Sometimes we’ll have some officers who you’d normally describe as maybe a little gruff or grumpy come out to the Cops and Kids program and have a really, really good time. It’s good for us.”

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