More than 80 Shawnee police officers and detectives have performed a bit of double duty since early November.
While fulfilling their key commitment to keep the city safe, each also has taken on the role of Secret Santa.
For the third consecutive year, an anonymous donor gifted the Shawnee Police Department a substantial amount of money and asked that it be distributed to their fellow citizens for the holidays.
This year’s gift — a total of $20,000 in $100 bills — was delivered to the station in November.
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At the donor’s request, the department retained $10,000 to make enhancements around the station. The other $10,000? Well, that’s the fun part.
Those Shawnee police officers and detectives have doled it out in $100 increments to surprised and happy recipients across the city during the last few weeks.
“This is an opportunity to give gifts from a kind person through us,” Officer Crystal Herber said. “It also opens the lines of communication between police and the citizens, and it improves community relations.”
Each of the blue-uniformed Secret Santas was given six $100 bills at the launch of the program and they were responsible for selecting their own recipients.
Officers and detectives selected their recipients based on a variety of criteria.
Gift recipients may have been persons the officers previously had gotten to know. Others may have been individuals or families an officer observed in a grocery-store parking lot or other setting and sensed they could use the money.
“You look; you observe,” said Roman Madrigal, Shawnee Police Department Community Outreach Officer. “You look for signs that someone might be in need.”
In some cases, officers played Secret Santa to recipients they’d actually met fulfilling their primary role of law enforcement.
“The first year, I gave $100 to someone I had ticketed in September,” Madrigal said. “She’d hand made a fake license renewal tag for her expired tags, so she could get to work. I felt bad about giving her the ticket but had to fulfill my oath. When the donation came about in December, I looked her up and went to her home.”
When she answered the door, Madrigal said, “Remember me?” She nodded.
“I told her about the Secret Santa program and gave her the $100,” he said. “She cried and I started crying, too.”
One morning last week, Herber stopped a man taking his four children to school.
“I could have given him multiple tickets for his car’s turn signals and other problems,” she said. “Instead, I asked him about his Christmas shopping and how it was going. He said it was ‘going’ but he had a lot more to do. I gave him a hundred dollars instead of ticketing him. He was very happy.”
This year was Herber’s second year playing Secret Santa for the police department.
“I rely on my instincts and faith to guide and show me people who are in need at the moment,” Herber said when asked about her selection process for recipients.
The night before giving out her final $100 bill on Dec. 13, Herber was vexed about who should get the gift.
“Out of the blue, it dawned on me,” she said. “Patricia Everitt crossed my mind and I knew.”
That’s why, at 8.a.m. that Wednesday morning, Herber headed to Ray Marsh Elementary to surprise Everitt as her final 2017 Secret Santa recipient.
Everitt has been a crossing guard at Ray Marsh for the past three years. She was at her post, keeping children safe, when Herber arrived.
Everitt was happy to see her officer friend walk up. Little did she know that Herber was actually playing Secret Santa for this particular visit.
They greeted each other with a handshake and talked about the holidays, crossing guard work, and how much Everitt loves the children at Ray Marsh.
While they talked, Herber casually reached into her back pocket for her wallet, pulled out the $100 bill, and handed it to Everitt.
The crossing guard, who has a particular soft spot for special-needs children, was thrilled. While she wouldn’t say exactly what she planned to do with the gift, Everitt did drop a hint.
“At Easter, I got some money and I gave a dollar to the kids who can’t eat candy,” she said. “And, I showed them that George Washington is on the dollar bill.”
Madrigal also had his last $100 to distribute Dec. 13 and chose to visit Shawnee Community Services in search of a recipient.
After waiting in the Community Services parking lot for a few minutes, Madrigal, sporting a fluffy Santa hat, approached a woman loading an armful of children’s items she had just purchased into her car.
He introduced himself and the two talked about the woman’s six grandchildren and how important they are to her.
Madrigal then told her about the Secret Santa program and offered her the $100 Secret Santa gift, but the woman politely declined and said she doesn’t really celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day.
“It’s not always as easy to give money away as you might think,” Madrigal said after the woman drove away. “People can be reluctant for a variety of reasons. Some might not trust the situation or they can have personal reasons why they don’t want to accept it.”
Madrigal continued to wait in the Community Services parking lot.
It wasn’t too long before a young mother, Laura Harman, of Overland Park, pulled in with her two children — Finley, 2, and Miles, 1.
As Harman was taking Miles out of his car seat, Madrigal approached her — still wearing the Santa hat — and introduced himself.
After talking for a few minutes, Madrigal asked Harman if she knew about the Secret Santa program and, as he did, he reached into his wallet, pulled out his final $100 gift for 2017, and handed it to Harman.
“I can’t believe this. I can’t believe it,” Harman exclaimed several times.
The timing of the Secret Santa gift was great for Miles, too — coming on his first birthday.
“I think we’ll use some of the money for birthday cupcakes today,” Harman said.
When the donation was made, the program’s anonymous donor set no expectations or guidelines regarding recipients of the Secret Santa gifts.
However, the donor asked that the officers write emails to share stories about the recipients this season. Shawnee Police Chief Rob Moser will pass along the stories to the department’s benefactor.
The money for the department was used to help build an outdoor fitness and workout field adjacent to police headquarters. It is outfitted with synthetic grass, so officers can use the field year round for obstacles courses, fitness drills, and more.
“I’ve suggested dodge ball a few times, but haven’t heard anything back,” Herber said.