BY REBECCA BENNETT — If you heard all the sirens or saw more than 100 police officers at the Mall at Prince Georges on Saturday, Dec. 12, it was not a usual day for local law enforcement. In its 12th year, “Operation Santa with a Badge” connected local children with police officers for a special day of camaraderie and holiday shopping.
Approximately 100 kids participated in the program this year, including the addition of students from Riverdale Elementary School. In police cruisers with full lights and sirens going, officers escorted students from Hyattsville Elementary School, Edward M. Felegy Elementary School, Rosa Parks Elementary School and University Park Elementary School. Children from Edmonston and Laurel also participated.
The event — organized by Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) Sgt. Mike Rudinski and his wife, Claire — brought officers from all over the area, including the Maryland State Police, Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office, and the Maryland-National Capital Park Police.
“Many of our young citizens with us today will only receive this as a gift,” Prince George’s County Sherriff Melvin High said to officers. “But you’re giving them more than just a toy; you’re giving them a gift of love.”
“This is one of the best days of the year,” HCPD Chief Douglas Holland said. “You will feel it.”
Participating for the first time, Officers William Hill and Paul Hammond from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) Police Department, said their police chief — who came from Park Police — recommended the program. Hammond said he has participated in the Baltimore City Police “Shop with a Cop” program.
One officer drove down from New Jersey to participate when he found out about the event through social media. “It’s a great program. … It brings out the community involvement between law enforcement and the kids,” said Officer Ryan Verrecchio of the Department of the Air Force. “It really sheds a positive light on why we do the job.”
James, who wast shopping with Verrecchio, said he was excited. In their cart were Legos, super heroes, and soccer clothes.
Verrecchio is stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst near Trenton, N.J. “I wanted to come down, hopefully learn about the program, see what it has to offer, and hopefully get something like this launched in New Jersey.”
Before the kids rode home, they participated in a party in the cafeteria of Northwestern High School with Santa, which was catered by Outback Steakhouse.