BY REBECCA BENNETT — They brandished badges and they came from all over to build better relationships with local youth. Organizers estimate 100 police officers participated in Operation Santa with a Badge on Dec. 13. With lights and sirens blaring, a parade of police cars escorted more than 100 kids from local schools to a holiday shopping spree at the Mall at Prince Georges and Target.
This is the eleventh year for the event, which is organized by Sgt. Mike Rudinski and his wife, Claire. She said it all started when her husband saw a similar event on television. “Rudinksi created the program … in part to provide the smaller police agencies in the region a way to participate in a large-scale community event,” a press release stated.
According to Mrs. Rudinski, children are identified by school guidance counselors as being in the most need. Funding for this year’s event, according to Rudinski, came in large part from the Mall at Prince Georges and Target, though other donations are made out to the Maryland Association of School Resource Officers.
The procession began at Magruder Park, where many police officers gathered at 8:30 a.m. Officers picked up students from Hyattsville Elementary School, Edward M. Felegy Elementary School, Rosa Parks Elementary School and University Park Elementary School, who then each got to ride in cruisers with sirens and lights going. The various lines of police cruisers converged on Queens Chapel Road and met with a line of police cars carrying children from Laurel. Children from Cheverly also participated in the program.
Once at the mall, police handed out gift cards to officer-kid groups, who then were on their own to pick out whatever they wanted.
“You’ll see officers reach into their pocket to supplement the gift certificate because the kid wants to buy mom a coat for the winter,” Rudinski said.
After making their holiday purchases, the group traveled to Northwestern High school for a celebratory lunch and visit with Santa. Rudinski said lunch was provided by Outback Steakhouse and Three Brothers Restaurant, and the custodial and cafeteria teams volunteered their time to serve the food and clean up.
According to Rudinski, participating in Operation Santa with a Badge would be the first act as police officers for two men who graduated from police academy Friday night. “We even gave them a car,” he said.
Rudinski said the purpose of the event was to foster a good relationship between police and participating children. “Someday, each one of these children will be a victim, a witness, or a suspect in a case,” he said.
Maryland Association of School Resource Officers President Jon Carrier said this is his eighth year participating in the event. Carrier, who said he worked in high schools and mentored a student named James, spoke of a memorable Operation Santa with a Badge moment. Carrier said he would participate in Operation Santa with a Badge with James, who went on to join the Anne Arundel County Police Department. James just graduated from police academy this week, according to Carrier.
Lt. Brian Waters, who was participating for the first time, said he started out with the Hyattsville City Police Department, but now works with the Maryland-National Capital Park Police. “[This event is an] example of the gift police give every day. These kids probably deserve to see police in this capacity,” he said.
Lt. Hansen from the Jefferson Co., W.V. Sheriff’s Office made the trip to support Rudinski, who he said he has known for approximately 20 years. Hansen said he is retiring soon, so this would be his last chance to participate. His daughter, Deputy Cassie Johnson, also participated in the event.
Chief Douglas Holland thanked the officers for participating. “If I am not in the Christmas spirit by this time [of year], I am certainly in the Christmas spirit by this day,” Holland said.
|Hyattsville City Police Department
Anne Arundel County Police Department
Laurel Police Department
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (West Virginia)
Maryland-National Capital Park Police
Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office
Mount Rainier Police Department
Prince George’s County Police Department
District Heights Police Department
|Prince George’s County School Police
Capitol Heights Police Department
Cheverly Police Department
University Park Police Department
University of Maryland Police Department
Cottage City Police Department
Seat Pleasant Police Department
Maryland State Police
State of Maryland Comptroller