Baltimore County Now
Baltimore County Police Officer Michael Schmitz
School Resource Officer, Stemmers Run Middle School
Like a lot of police officers, one of the main reasons I chose this career was to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Looking back over my years on the force, one of the real highlights for me has been the Shop with a Cop program. For the past 12 years, on a Saturday in December, about 100 disadvantaged children are assigned a police officer, who picks them up in their squad car and accompanies them on a Christmas shopping trip to the Hunt Valley Walmart followed by a nice meal at Outback Steakhouse.
It all started back in the summer of 2001 when I was approached by my friend, Kim Coles, who works as a marketing manager for Outback Steakhoue. She told me about a great program called Shop with A Cop that a Virginia Outback was doing for Christmas, and she wanted me to start here.
The program motto is, “every child deserves a Christmas,” and as nice as it is to make sure a child has presents to open on Christmas morning, the really heartwarming thing is that most of the time, the officers have to basically force these kids to buy something for themselves. They are so intent on buying gifts for their Mom, siblings and other relatives, that they spend their whole $100 allotment. That’s when the officers usually pull out their own wallets and really give back.
I remember my first Shop with a Cop buddy, a young boy from a rough neighborhood whose mother was a recovering heroin addict. He was intent on buying gifts for his younger siblings and his mother. I added some more money to the equation and he bought some things for himself. When we headed back home in the police cruiser that day, I asked him how his day went. I’ll never forget his reply that “it was the best Christmas ever!” This is what a police officer comes on the job to do - make a positive difference. I often wonder if I was able to have a lasting effect on his life and what ever happened to that boy – he’d be about 16 now.
We started in 2001 with funds we raised ourselves and were able to include 25 kids. After the first year the Optimist clubs jumped on board and made the commitment to raise the money to fund at least 100 children each year and they have done that for 11 years, amounting to more than 1,100 children total so far. Baltimore County’s program is now the largest Shop with a Cop program in the state. The Optimist Clubs not only raise the money but they are also the cheerleaders for the children and police as they enter the Walmart to start their journey.
Over the years I have talked with police officers who have been a part of this event and ask them what it means to them. They all say they had a great time and several of them have continued to come back year after year. Officers have also told me that over the years, some of these children have approached them and said that prior to being a part of Shop with a Cop they didn’t like the police, but afterwards they saw police officers in a more positive light.
This year will be no different when the 110 police officers from all over the county show up to met their new friends (children) at their stations this Saturday at 0700hrs. During this short time we spend together with the children, we hope that it brings joy to them and their families, not just on Shop with a Cop day, but for years to come. Remember every child deserves a Christmas!