The Pensacola Police

Pensacola. I am at Target this morning. Not far from the Winn-Dixie on Bayou Boulevard.

The parking lot is swamped with black-and-white Chevy Tahoes. Lightbars on the rooftops. Push bars mounted on the bumpers. Cop cars.

I walk into Target to find a gaggle of police officers, lingering in the foyer. Badges. Tactical boots. Duty belts. Ballistic vests.

The officers are in jocular moods, laughing and horsing around. Each cop is pushing a shopping buggy because today is the annual Pensacola Police Department Christmas shop-a-thon.

The premise is simple: Throughout the year, police officers meet a lot of kids in the line of duty. Officers meet children who are trapped in bad situations. They meet kids who live in squalor. Children of drug addicted parents. Children whose parents have been arrested. Children of suicide. Kids who have nobody.

The Pensacola officers remember these children’s names. Then, the cops secretly add these names to a mounting holiday list at the station.

“When Christmas rolls around,” says one officer, “we all come to Target and go buck wild buying gifts.”

This isn’t an official city program, with official city funds, with an officially Marketed Name™. No, this is just a few cops who decided to play Santa.

These officers have been doing this for 15 years, just because they want to. Private donations pay for everything. A lot of cops contribute out of their own wallets.

“We don’t do this for press,” says one cop. “We do this because we actually know these kids.”

I am wandering the aisles with Officer Dave. Dave is pushing a buggy, shopping for a 5-year-old boy. Dave works patrol. His chest-mounted radio keeps squawking as he’s browsing through the stuffed-animal section.

“Kids like fuzzy bears,” says Officer Dave, throwing a stuffed animal into the cart. “Let’s get him a fuzzy bear.”

I meet an officer who is shopping for a little girl whose father killed her mother. When the police arrested the child’s father, they met the girl. The kid was a wreck. Nobody in the department has been able to forget this child.

“She is always in our hearts and in my mind,” says the officer. “We shop for her every year.”

I meet Tara, who works in the department as a victims advocate. She grew up in the housing projects. She tells me her family had nothing when she was a girl.

When she started working for the Pensacola Police, Tara was the first to sign up for the annual PPD shop-a-thon.

One year for Christmas, Tara was delivering presents to the same housing projects where she grew up. After the officers delivered presents to the throngs of happy kids, Tara noticed a teenage girl, sitting on the steps. The girl was sullen and distant.

Tara was walking past the girl when the girl told Tara she liked her shoes.

Tara stopped. She asked the girl what her size was. The girl was a size eight. Tara removed her own shoes and put them on the girl’s feet. Hugs were given. Tears were exchanged.

“I walked around the rest of the day delivering presents in my socks,” says Tara.

I run into a female school resource officer who is buying gifts for a student who came into her office one day for causing trouble.

Turns out, the rowdy child wasn’t a bad kid at all. He was just hungry. And a child will do strange things when he or she is starving to death.

The officer began bringing the kid food. Every day. Candy bars. Hot meals. Sacks of groceries to take home. You name it.

They became friends. One day, the child confided in the officer that his homelife was a mess. His parents were abusive. His mom was addicted. The boy walked two miles to school every day because nobody would give him a ride.

“He calls me Mom now,” the officer tells me. “I’ve never been anybody’s mom before. I want him to have a decent Christmas.”

A female officer, pushing a full buggy. She tells me she is shopping for an 18-year-old foster girl. When the child turned 18, the kid was no longer the State of Florida’s problem. The group foster home kicked her out. Not metaphorically, but worse, literally.

So there she was, on her 18th birthday, standing on a street corner. Homeless.

The officer helped the girl find a house to rent. The officer got furniture donated. Whenever the girl can’t find transportation to school, the officer calls an Uber and pays for it herself. They are friends. They text each other every day.

“I’m going to give this girl the best Christmas she’s ever had,” says the officer.

When the shop-a-palooza is over, the checkout lanes are clogged with red buggies and cheerful officers. The carts are all lined up. And the Christmas spirit is so thick you could spread it on toast.

Nearby customers are staring, because it’s not every day you see dozens of cops buying toys.

One cashier is ringing up an officer. The cashier is visibly moved when she sees the stuffed animals. She says, “Why on earth do you do this?”

The cop’s eyes are bright. I won’t say there was a tear running down his cheek, but I won’t say there wasn’t, either.

“Are you kidding?” the officer says. “This is why I became a cop.”


  1. Sandi. - December 15, 2022 6:24 am

    The Christmas spirit is alive and well in Pensacola! God bless all those cops and the precious children they buy gifts for each December.

  2. Debbie Kay - December 15, 2022 6:39 am

    Totally dedicated to his or her job. Often we only hear bad stuff and don’t see or hear the good stuff. Thank you for all you do. This puts a smile on my face and I am proud to be an American.

  3. Ginga Smithfield - December 15, 2022 8:25 am

    Merry Christmas and God Bless all of the children and cops!!!

  4. Debbie g - December 15, 2022 8:53 am

    Blessed are the kids. The cops and all of us for the joy and protection. They give love y’all guys in blue. Thank you
    Love you Sean and Jamie
    And love to us all. May we all follow their good example 💕💕

  5. Trent - December 15, 2022 9:42 am

    True, true heroes – every single person in uniform. Thank you for telling their story. And thank you for doing what is sadly so rare in media these days – writing about honest to goodness “goodness”. We all love you for it.

  6. Mickie Perkins - December 15, 2022 10:18 am

    Since we are a twin city ((Texarkana, Texas and Arkansas), both police departments were instrumental in starting and participating in the annual “Shop With A Cop” program for deserving kids each December. This has been ongoing for many years and has come to include the local fire departments, the state police, county sheriffs offices, and a few outlying police departments, as well. The Arkansas side holds their shopping bonanza at WalMart and the Texas side goes to Target. The selected kids wait at Target and there is a grand entrance of police vehicles and fire trucks led by siren screaming police motorcycles as they arrive and each public safety person takes a child on a personal shopping spree! The funds are raised through individual and business donations. The officers/fire personnel have a blessed time shopping with the kids!! Our public safely personnel really live up to our cities’ motto of “Twice As Nice”‼️

  7. Laura W - December 15, 2022 10:27 am

    I volunteer with the support group for our local small GA county sheriff. At Christmas the sheriff gets donations of new and gently used bikes and over the course of the holidays and into next year they will give away over 250-300 bikes to county kids. Then there’s the annual Easter egg hunt where the jail inmates stuff candy into 50,000 eggs for the kids to gather and I dress up as the Easter Bunny for photos. The kids know the officers helping out because they are school resource officers, the kids love them and I’m not sure who is more excited to see who outside of school. Goes on and on all year how much these guys and gals do for the community.

  8. Renee Welton - December 15, 2022 11:12 am


  9. Linda Clayton - December 15, 2022 11:33 am

    Oh Sean. THIS is why you write – to tell the world about the good in people when we’re force fed so much about the bad.

  10. Kim Pressley - December 15, 2022 11:36 am

    These are the stories that come to mind for me when I hear politicians say “defund the police”. I say give them a raise. Defund the politicians! Thanks for sharing stories. I read them every morning. It restores my hope in mankind in a season of thinking that evil is winning. God bless you!

  11. Kim Pressley - December 15, 2022 11:39 am

    These are the stories that come to my mind when I hear politicians say “defund the police”. I say give them a raise and defund the politicians. Thank you for sharing these stories. I read them every morning and it restores my hope in mankind when it feels like evil is winning these days. God bless you!

  12. John Bass - December 15, 2022 11:57 am

    Great column, Sean.

  13. Marlee - December 15, 2022 12:11 pm

    Oh, my heart is full.

  14. Diana - December 15, 2022 12:29 pm

    There really is a lot of good happening that we never hear about. The good stuff doesn’t make the news. Thanks Sean for sharing this beautiful story.

  15. Gwen - December 15, 2022 12:29 pm

    How kind!!! What a good Christmas story!

  16. Anne Arthur - December 15, 2022 12:33 pm

    That’s the true Christmas spirit. Spreading hope and love will impact the entire community. It’s so good to read this.

  17. Leigh Amiot - December 15, 2022 12:44 pm

    I’ve read about shop with a cop in my home town, but Pensacola’s method, remembering and revisiting children they’d first encountered in crisis situations, is among the most heartwarming events ever.

  18. Suzanne Moore - December 15, 2022 12:55 pm

    Wonderful program. Wonderful public servants. God bless them, every one!

  19. stephenpe - December 15, 2022 12:55 pm

    I can relate to this story. For many years our county (school system) in Fla. would do Shop with A Cop. Each elem. school would identify lots of kids in need, load them on a school bus and off to Walmart we went. We paired each one up with an LEO of some type, even DOC personnel. Each kid had $100 to spend. I went with my school children on our bus. I was amazed at how many older kids (4th and 5th grade) would buy gifts for their families. It would be so heart warming kids from poverty pick out things they wanted. I was able to do it for years. Loaded many bicycles up on trailers for kids. Wonderful story, Sean.

  20. mccutchen52 - December 15, 2022 1:05 pm

    My wife is a retired Deputy Sheriff and they did a shop with a cop every year. She said the hardest years were the ones where the child would ask for coats and gloves for them and their siblings. No toys or candy (though my wife would buy the anyway) but things that their siblings needed not wanted.

  21. Joseph B Mizereck - December 15, 2022 1:08 pm

    Pure love. Nothing better.

    Thank you Sean…and Merry Christmas young man.

  22. Marie - December 15, 2022 1:21 pm

    This happens all over the country. My son and his wife are both police officers. Yes, THIS is why they are in law enforcement. Helping PEOPLE, especially the marginalized, the pushed aside, the forgotten. And, even those who break the law, sometimes an arrest or intervention is what saves their lives. The stories they can tell and the generosity I’ve witnessed by them and their fellow officers is phenomenal. Don’t let me hear “DEFUND THE POLICE”………this LEO champion will tell you a thing or two. Thanks for shining a light, Sean. Merry Christmas to the Dietrich family…….those with 2 AND 4 legs!

  23. Jean Sherrill - December 15, 2022 1:29 pm

    God bless them!!!!

  24. sjhl7 - December 15, 2022 1:46 pm

    One of your very best! Boy did I need that this morning! Thank you, Sean!

  25. Patty R - December 15, 2022 2:00 pm

    I live in Pensacola near Target. Our police are the best. So glad you highlighted the good hearts they have. Thank you.

  26. Sean of the South: The Pensacola Police | The Trussville Tribune - December 15, 2022 2:02 pm

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  27. Roxana - December 15, 2022 2:04 pm

    Wow! That was incredible. I married a cop who retired from the same county where I was a teacher. We rose up in the ranks together and when I became an ESOL teacher we found ourselves helping so many families in need in my school community. As I rose to an AP and Principal and he to the Chief it was even more clear why God called us to our professions. For such a time as this…I was crying when reading this being reminded of the many times, I would call my husband to ask for money to pay for groceries or a night at a hotel for a homeless family til they could get into a shelter or apartment.

    In our county we had what we called Santa Cop, where the officers were paired with kids and they pick up the child from their home and take them to Walmart in their cruisers and shop with them and then to breakfast where volunteers wrap the items that were purchased for them. The cops then return them home!!!

    I love that the cops in the story had a relationship with these kids!!

  28. Rufus Ornduff - December 15, 2022 2:18 pm

    Why is our news media not covering this truly Christmas and Christian event instead of some athlete that is overpaid. Thanks Sean for this magnificent story of how america really works.

  29. Susie - December 15, 2022 2:35 pm

    Lots of great cops around. We need more of them, not less. ❤️

  30. David - December 15, 2022 2:51 pm

    Well that brought tears! What an awesome thing to do for those kids!

  31. Anne Godwin - December 15, 2022 2:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing the goodness of people. We are all more alike than we are different. There are so many good people in the world. I quit watching the news decades ago. They like to show the bad stuff. Merry Christmas from your older sister in Mobile.

  32. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - December 15, 2022 3:01 pm

    That is a sweet story!

  33. Melanie - December 15, 2022 3:11 pm

    This is beautiful, Sean 🖤💙🖤💙 Thank you Pensacola PD and law enforcement everywhere. Our local police department and the CHP (California Highway Patrol) all help support victims and children year round.

  34. Stacey Wallace - December 15, 2022 3:21 pm

    May God bless these wonderful police officers and the children they help. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  35. Tim Smith - December 15, 2022 3:25 pm

    Somebody (ahem) should write a book of stories like this. I’m crying like a baby!

  36. Bob - December 15, 2022 3:37 pm

    This is but one example of good police – work. Keep bragging about them.

  37. Michael Mazenko. - December 15, 2022 3:48 pm

    Thanks Sean, i live in Pensacola and never new of this wonderful plan. Maybe I can help. Can you tell me how? We recently saw you at Pursell Farms. You were great and loved seeing Marigold.

  38. Tom Wallin - December 15, 2022 3:49 pm

    Much love and gratitude to all the police and other caregivers. This was a very heart warming story. Thanks.

  39. pattymack43 - December 15, 2022 3:58 pm

    ❤️❤️❤️ A million more reasons to SUPPORT the men and women in BLUE!!! Thank you for sharing about the PPD with us!! Blessings to all who serve in law enforcement at Christmas!!

  40. kingswaydaughter - December 15, 2022 4:21 pm

    Nothing to say but A.W.E.S.O.M.E. – and God Bless our men and women in blue.

  41. wgeorgegaines - December 15, 2022 4:42 pm

    My home town, so proud of our boys & girls who wear blue!

  42. Les Jantz - December 15, 2022 4:43 pm

    Beautiful story, God is good

  43. Becky Souders - December 15, 2022 5:04 pm

    What a great tradition and what fine cops! Our local county sheriff’s office does something similar every year. Such good people around us and it’s nice to hear about them! Thanks, Sean.

  44. Lisa R - December 15, 2022 5:11 pm

    I love reading your e-mails every day. This one was particularly moving. My daughter teaches in a middle school where a lot of kid don’t have the best home life. She always keeps cereal bars in her closet and the kids know if they are hungry, they can go take one. Kids cant learn if they are hungry.

  45. Sheila - December 15, 2022 5:12 pm

    Thank you for writing this so that everyone who reads this will realize that NOT ALL POLICE are BAD!!!

  46. Kathy - December 15, 2022 5:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. If fills my heart with joy and is a good reminder of what’s important this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

  47. Patricia Gibson - December 15, 2022 5:30 pm

    God bless them!❤️❤️❤️

  48. Steve McCaleb - December 15, 2022 5:34 pm

    Stories like this give me hope that maybe……just maybe we as a species are worth saving. From my fingertips to the Big Man’s ears. Please….

  49. Shoshana - December 15, 2022 6:08 pm

    This…is the BEST thing I’ve read all year!

  50. Dawn - December 15, 2022 6:25 pm

    This is fantastic. PPD is the Best!! I was in that Target this morning. Sorry I missed it, but also glad I missed it at checkout time! ; )

  51. MAM - December 15, 2022 6:33 pm

    Tears were definitely running down my cheeks! Our local police do this every year, too. Plus they have a parade of police cars, sirens blazing and lights flashing, going through town with the kids that they are buying gifts for. It’s so sweet every year!

  52. LIN ARNOLD - December 15, 2022 6:44 pm

    God bless them, one and all!!

  53. Cindy Davis - December 15, 2022 6:56 pm

    This makes me love Pensacola even more! ❤️

  54. Boyce Miller - December 15, 2022 7:26 pm

    It’s a great program. It is done a little differently here in my hometown. The cop actually takes the kid to Walmart. Tears are shed.

  55. Deborah Blount - December 15, 2022 7:46 pm

    This is the true meaning of Christmas. Not receiving gifts, but giving. Not just the giving of the material gifts, but the gift of time, concern, and love. The season is the reason. Merry Christmas.

  56. Judy - December 15, 2022 8:01 pm

    Thanks be to God for people like this.

  57. David A Dail - December 15, 2022 8:33 pm

    Nice article, nice police department.

  58. Karen - December 15, 2022 9:58 pm

    This is the kind of police story that should be on the news. They are a true blessing to these children.

  59. Nina - December 15, 2022 10:02 pm

    That’s one of the reasons I love NW Florida. The generosity around here is amazing.❤️

  60. Michael J. Walter - December 16, 2022 12:20 am

    Matthew 25:35-40

  61. Robert B Hawk - December 16, 2022 2:10 am

    Fabulous and, I truly believe, not uncommon. Some of the most generous, some of the kindest, some of the most honorable people are police and other law enforcement. We are honored to have them among us!

  62. conkledavid - December 16, 2022 2:42 am

    Thanks Sean . Pensacola is blessed with a great police force – both city and county do a great job .

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  64. Tom - December 16, 2022 3:06 am

    Gotta like the men in blue!

  65. Tami Nantz - December 16, 2022 4:23 am

    As the wife of a now retired LEO, thank you. Thank you for showing the other side of our men and women in blue. Some of the biggest hearts in all the world.

  66. Michael D. Carr - December 16, 2022 2:31 pm

    I think the God I worship, His Son is Jesus, also believes in Santa Claus. I appreciate my police department here in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They also do this same thing every year.

    God bless you all,

    Michael D. Carr

  67. Brenda Lynch - December 16, 2022 3:04 pm

    Law Enforcement officers get a bad rap. They shouldn’t! I work for a school system here in Georgia–we have different officers for traffic control. This year every bus driver and our office staff all received an individual gift with a card from the ‘Thursday morning” deputy. Our drivers were plum giddy, what a selfless act of kindness from a person who’s salary should be 10 or 20 times what it is. She was thanking us and we should be and are very grateful for her. I’m convinced most of those officers have a really big heart to hang that badge on!

  68. Linda Moon - December 16, 2022 9:34 pm

    I’m a day late in posting about “The Pensacola” Police, but I’m hoping it will post in homage to my friend’s father. She and I were besties in high school. Her Daddy was a cop. He also worked a second job to raise a bunch of kids. He laughed a lot, was a great cop and loved his kids. Sadly, he los his life while working a second job as a security job where my post-high school husband worked. Thank you for telling us about why good men become cops, Sean!

  69. Carol Pilmer - December 17, 2022 2:24 am

    Another Great One, Thanks, Sean…God Bless The Folks In Blue With The Huge Hearts!
    Merry Christmas To All of Them!

  70. Jo Rufo - December 18, 2022 5:27 pm

    God knows exactly HIS PEOPLE@

  71. Friesen Denton - December 26, 2022 9:30 pm

    Hi from an impressed fellow man your neighbour to the north a true hearted Canadian Thanks for the touching report & to all our friends in Blue. Denton Friesen


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