Children often are scared when they encounter police officers and Jason Hart would like to dispel that impression.
While Halloween is the time when fright is foremost, police don't want terrified kids. Hart and other Merced police officers have been handing out free bags of Halloween candy to local youngsters, thanks to the Merced Police Officers Association.
Parents often threaten to turn their misbehaving children over to the cops and Hart wants to overcome those initial fears. Many times youngsters' first contact with police involves an unhappy circumstance and Hart said that shouldn't be.
"We have to be approachable. Fear is not the message we are trying to relay. Kids shouldn't be afraid of police; we're here to help them," Hart said.
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The officers' association spent about $1,000 to buy plastic bags and candy, which was bagged up over the weekend by law enforcement Explorer scouts. Officer Dave Carlin, treasurer of the association's political action committee, said most of the Halloween events involve a $1 or $2 charge per child and many families can't afford that.
"We should do some things for free, especially in these economically challenging times. We bought a large amount of candy and Save Mart, Food 4 Less, Raley's, Costco and Rite-Aid donated candy, too. The Merced Police Officers Association gets a lot of support from the community. This is a way for us to connect and bond with the community," Carlin said.
Hart approached an 8-year-old who was busy raking leaves in the 3200 block of Austin Avenue. When the boy saw the police car, he ran into his house, thinking he was in trouble.
"Soon the youngster and his mom emerged. I told him he was doing a good job and gave him a bag of candy. His face just lit up and he called out to his little sister. His mom was really happy," Hart said.
Detective Keith Pelowski, MPOA president, said his group is planning other goodwill gestures for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"We are just trying to do something for the kids. Officers are more than just bad guys; we're here for the people. When we pull over and hand out candy, we're letting them know cops are behind them," Pelowski said.
Officer Gerald Bohanan gave out about 100 bags of candy Sunday and Monday to children he encountered on the street in South Merced. He has one more large box of candy to give out and said the giveaway was welcomed by the community.
Officer Jesse Padgett said children were more than receptive to the officers' generosity. He would spot a youngster, stop to give him or her some candy and pretty soon a group of 15 to 20 children came up to him.
"I like to see happy kids; it lets them see we are good guys and are building rapport with children. It's definitely a good thing; parents have been thanking us," Padgett said.
Carlin said the bags of candy have an MPOA logo with Officer Stephan Gray's badge number on it. Patrol officers, detectives, parking enforcement and community service officers were handing out candy.
"It's our way of giving something back. We are exactly like them, we pay taxes, go to the store. We just have this particular job," Carlin said.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.