My family and I had just driven 9-year-old Indicta from our police station to the local Walmart for our annual Shop with a Cop.
We climbed out of my unmarked vehicle, preparing to join with the other 39 cop-and-child combos to go and find perfect holiday gifts for all of the kids, who come from low-income families. But Indicta’s mother approached us first and raised some concerns.
She explained that Indicta’s father, before leaving for a self-described 30-day camping trip that he never returned from, told Indicta to always behave while he was gone or “the men in blue” would come to take her away. The comment apparently had a powerful impact on the child, and a negative one at that.
The mother then said she was concerned that Indicta would not get a true understanding of police officers because my family was accompanying me. She also did not understand why we were in an unmarked car and not a cruiser with lights and sirens.
At first, her concerns caught me by surprise. But I listened to her, making sure I understood the issues, and then first explained that we were in an unmarked car because it’s my assigned vehicle.
And then I tackled what for me was the more important issue – why my family (my wife, daughter age 20 and son who is 11) had come along.
For me, it’s important that children see me as not just a police officer, but as a person, a husband, and a father. My family accompanies me (and has done so eagerly for all nine years that we have had the program, I will add) because I have found many of the children in this program come from single-parent homes.
I want to show them what an unbroken family can look like, how we support and love one another, with the hope that they choose to seek out something similar later in life.
Bringing my family along also does something else that I did not explain to the mother. Shop with a Cop helps keep my family grounded too. We are not wealthy, but it’s fair to say that if someone in my family needed something, we would be able to afford it. Seeing children being excited to receive a gift that they might never have had a chance to get is a powerful message to my children, whom I believe will in turn pass it along to others down the line.
And I can tell you, watching the joy on the children’s faces is something that stays with you for a long while.
To be honest, it’s the same for everyone in my department that participates. As a group, we feel fortunate to have a chance to give back while connecting with the community.
As a police chief, there may be only a few experiences that are more important to what we are trying to do. We are the men and women of the Beaumont Police Department, and our job is to keep our community safe. Ensuring the community understands we are part of them is critical for us to be able to do our jobs, so anything we can do to strengthen that connection is powerful.
I look at it also as we must meet people where they are. There’s a Biblical foundation for this, as Paul the apostle once said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
If we as police want to connect with the people, we must go and be with them, particularly the young people, because we need to build bonds with them to protect all of our futures.
What better way can you make that happen than by taking children Christmas shopping?
Chief Thuilliez has been with the Beaumont Police Department for 10 years. Previously, he worked for the Redlands (Ca.) Police Department. He has been the chief of police for the past 18 months. He has a Bachelor of Science in workforce education and development. Thuilliez has a Master of Arts in management from the University of Redlands. He graduated from the Post California Command College Class 55 and from the FBI National Academy Session 245.