Sheriff's department spreads cheer
But during a series of traffic stops near Northside Drive mid-day Friday, motorists being pulled over got an unexpected surprise from local law enforcement.
The Bennington County Sheriff's Department was on hand to spread Christmas cheer. Officers surprised drivers with bags of gifts and gift cards.
"This is a way to give back to the community," Sgt. Joel Howard said.
Officers took turns conducting traffic enforcement along the busy stretch of road. They told the driver what he or she did, then checked the status of the car registration and the owner's license. Howard and others spoke with the driver to build a rapport and find out more about them.
At Walmart, a team of runners — deputies, store employees and volunteers — waited for a radio request from the field. "I have a little 10-year-old girl who likes dolls," Howard says over his portable.
Runners move to pick out a couple gifts and then scan, bag and pay for it at a register dedicated to the effort. They do it with the speed of a Supermarket Sweep champion.
Minutes later, a second cruiser pulls up behind Howard. "I thought I was going to get arrested," Helen Brown said afterwards. She was pleasantly surprised that she and her 10-year-old daughter Julianna were presented with two bags of presents.
She's going to get her car inspected "right now," she said.
Friday was one piece of an effort aiming to give back to the community. The department had raised money through payroll deduction and set about $1,500 set aside for the effort.
Along with that, deputies "adopted" 42 kids across the county. They did the shopping for them this week.
This week and next, deputies will be handing out gift cards during traffic stops they're conducting across the county.
Most of the money came from department members who signed up for payroll deductions, Howard said.
Bert Brown with the Bennington Cruiser's volunteered a few hours to help shop on Friday.
"We're here to help out and give back to the community, to put some Christmas spirit," he said.
Officers stopped motorists who they saw committing minor traffic violations: Snow on their license plate or back windshield or expired inspection stickers, as examples. Officers got to hear their stories. One man said he had been out of work six months after heart surgery. He got a $100 gift card to Walmart.
Another woman was getting ready to host 20 people at her home for the holidays. Mary Cicirello of North Bennington beamed as Howard, Brown and Deputy Aaron Fantroy presented her with a 20-pound turkey, a ham, two bags of potatoes and a box of chocolate.
For longtime department member Sgt. Jim Marsden, Friday's event was a chance to have positive interactions with the public. Most people's experiences with law enforcement are on their own worst day, he notes.
"It's nice to be able to put a smile on someone's face," he said.
Ed Damon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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