For at least 15 years, the annual Kansas City police baseball card giveaway was a popular and easy way for officers to interact with neighborhood kids on their beats.
But the money for the initiative ran out a few years ago, and the baseball card distribution was forced to hit the showers.
On Thursday, the baseball card giveaway received a call up from the minors and is now back in the big leagues.
Patrol officers on Thursday began handing out packs of free Topps baseball cards to youngsters as they patrolled Kansas City neighborhoods. Officers in Kansas City, Kan., have also begun distributing baseball cards.
The Kansas City Royals donated the cards through the team’s charitable foundation as way to support local law enforcement and help provide officers a positive way to interact with the communities they serve.
“Baseball cards are something that everyone enjoys, so this is a way to open up conversation with kids and police officers and have a positive interaction between the two,” Ben Aken, vice president for community relations for the Kansas City Royals, said Thursday.
The team delivered hundreds of baseball cards to the Police Department’s Central Patrol Division. Each of the city’s six patrol divisions, as well as other police departments, received several cases of baseball cards.
So far, more than 15,000 packs have been distributed to police.
“As we are getting more requests, we are trying to get more cards in,” Aken said. “Now we have more requests than we have cards.”
The idea to resume the baseball card program came up about a year ago. Adults who received baseball cards as youngsters asked patrol officers if the program could return, said Police Officer Jason Cooley, community interaction officer for the department’s violent crime enforcement division.
“It put a light bulb on top of my head on exploring the revitalization of that program,” Cooley said. “Those interactions are extremely important for both of us; kids get to see our human side, and we get to have a more intimate, positive touch with the community we are serving.”
Kids are encouraged to approach police officers for baseball cards when the emergency lights on their patrol cars are not activated.
During the program relaunch Thursday, officers gathered in the roll call at the Central Patrol Division and munched on Papa John’s pizza as Royals Hall of Fame center fielder Amos Otis signed autographs and posed for photographs.
Otis said the baseball card giveaway was essential in strengthening the ties between the police and the community.
“The big thing is they (the police) are protectors, they make sure we are safe communitywise,” he said. “That is what you need, and that is what you have.”