Officers donate to Shop With a Cop by paying to wear facial hair
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks, who started the Shop With a Cop program four years ago, has added a little spice to the event this year.
Instead of just helping escort young shoppers around the local Walmart as they do each year, several police officers — including the chief — are also helping out financially with the December 14 program, too.
“It’s called ‘No-shave November’,” Brooks explained as he scratched his multi-colored facial hair. “We sort of decided that to raise money for Shop With a Cop, we would allow the officers to wear a beard for the month of November. We had to pay, of course, to participate. Some of my patrol staff suggested that we do like some companies do to raise money and donate to different organizations. The ones who wanted to participate paid $25 each to wear a beard for a month.”
The police chief said a beard is something new for most officers, himself included, since a lot of departments don’t allow them.
“I’ve never had a beard; for the past 35 years I’ve shaved every day,” he admitted. “My wife [Abby] said I wouldn’t last three days, and that put a fire under me. My biggest critic, my mother [Georgia Dean Brooks], liked it.”
Sgt. Chris Corbett is one of the officers who took up the chief’s offer. He said it’s a new experience for him, too.
“I’ve never worn a beard before; I’ve had to shave every day, 20 years in,” he said. “I’m still scratching, but it’s for the kids.”
As participants in Shop with a Cop, each child is given a chit for $100, with which he or she can buy most anything in the local retail store. Brooks said “around 100” children participated in the first event, held three years ago, with the number gradually climbing to “around 120” last year. He hopes to provide for up to 130 this year.
“I had heard about Shop With a Cop, and when I became chief, I wanted to do something like that to help my community,” he said of the local program’s origin. It’s for kids that normally wouldn’t have a Christmas.”
There’s also another aspect that’s equally as important.
“We want kids to run to us, not run away from us,” he said. “We want children to understand that we are there to help. This gives us a chance to do that, in a totally positive setting.
“The kids sometimes see negative things, like when mama and daddy fuss and fight. By law, if we identify a primary aggressor, we have to take somebody to jail. Kids see that, and it makes us look bad. It’s confusing to them, and it’s heartbreaking for an officer to have to do that in front of a child, so parents, for the love of God, act right.”
The annual holiday event usually includes on-duty and off-duty APD personnel, but also city firemen, Alabama State Troopers and others.
“They love it,” Brooks said. “Some of the troopers even come on their ‘off’ time, and that’s awesome.”
He said businesses and individuals have greeted his appeals for funding with open arms.
“We have some great donors,” Brooks said. “We have businesses and private donors that chip in. One lady brought me a check for $1,500. That really helps us to help a child have Christmas who probably wouldn’t otherwise have Christmas.”
Candidates for the spending spree are selected by counselors at Escambia County Middde School and Rachel Patterson Elementary School. If a child has a sibling who’s older, the senior sibling will also be included.
“We don’t want one to get Christmas and one not to get it,” the police chief said. “I wish we could get Christmas for every child.”
Corbett pointed out that many of the children who take part in the program see him in stores or elsewhere and run up to him to thank him or hug him.
“You can see it in some of their eyes,” said the father of three. “They really enjoy it, and it’s a warm feeling to see them so happy.”
Now that November has passed, what happens to the APD chin whiskers?
“I think I’m going to keep mine, at least for a little while,” the chief said. “I’m going to let the officers who want to, keep theirs, too, as long as it’s neat. I’ve had to make a policy change to do that.”
The city’s top cop added that he plans to continue the annual holiday event as long as a need exists.
“I’m just honored to help,” Brooks said. “I’ll do it until somebody tells me I can’t do it anymore.”