Kids get to shop with a cop for back to school

Published 12:10 am Thursday, July 28, 2022

SALISBURY — Having the chance to interact with a police officer in a situation that is positive and upbeat, and that also helps with back to school shopping, is good for both the children involved and the officers.

Bruce Phillips, 12, a student at Knox Middle School, and his school resource officer, Master Salisbury Police Officer Isaac Miller, were involved in deciding if a pair of Nike sneakers were the right size for Bruce during the Shop with a Cop event at Dick’s Sporting Goods on Tuesday.

The two were part of a group of 10 kids and accompanying school resource officers from Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Salisbury Police, Spencer Police and Landis Police.

This marks the second time Dick’s has sponsored an event like this; the company also held a Shop with a Cop in December for Christmas.

Rowan County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Walker organizes the events, and said the SROs are the ones who recommend particular students for inclusion.

“They are with these kids consistently, and they know who needs a bit of extra help, for a variety of reasons,” he said.  “So we leave it to their expertise to decide what kids come.”

“I think this is awesome,” said Miller. “I think it’s great that stores do this. Sometimes being out there with the kids, the things you hear make your heart drop. To have a chance to do something like this for them is part of the overall goal of helping them become more confident, and grow into good people.”

Bruce picked out a snazzy pair of Nikes with a royal blue stripe along the side, and Miller made sure to check where the young man’s toe was, then had him walk around a bit to be sure the sneakers fit. Bruce said they were “very cushiony inside,” smiling. In a soft voice, he told Miller he’d never owned a pair of real Nikes before.

His mother, Jennifer Wertenbaker, said she is incredibly grateful her son was selected to participate.

“Last year, we went to New York before school started and he found a pair of sneakers that looked just like Jordans, but were far less expensive, and he loved them,” she said. “But when he started school, a lot of the kids teased him because they were not the real thing. Which meant he didn’t want to wear them anymore.” She said last year, as classes returned to normal after an extended period of students being broken up into smaller groups, was challenging for her son, who had to deal with “a lot of bullying.”

For Bruce to have made such a strong connection with Miller has been good for her son and for her own peace of mind.

Officer Jasmine Suber, who has been a Salisbury officer for five years, said she knows Miller well, often stopping by the school to check in, and she is convinced he is exactly where he needs to be.

“I go in there and kids are sometimes lined up to compete in a video game with him,” she said. “And he’s saying ‘where are you supposed to be right now?’ At one point, he had a sign up sheet for kids who wanted to challenge him, so they could get a slot to play when they had time in their schedule. He adores those kids. I know there are times when, if he could, he would take them home.”

The store sponsored 10 kids this time around and 10 last December, and the hope is to continue the events, both in Salisbury and around the state.

“We enjoy supporting our communities,” said regional loss prevention specialist Willie Gatling. He said the company is hoping to encourage relationships with communities in all of their markets, and to help kids in the process is tremendous.

Landis police officer Doug Pruitt has been a school resource officer for three years, joining the department after a 30-year career in teaching in Rowan County.

“I just wasn’t ready to stop working with kids,” he said. “This kind of program is essential. Some of these kids live in houses without running water, without a front door because it’s just been boarded up. We don’t know what they are living with at home, so to be able to do something that really makes them feel not just special but normal, is terrific.

The group gathered for a quick pizza lunch after shopping before departing. Miller was sitting in the middle of four or five students, laughing and talking, with Bruce on his right side. Bruce said he feels like Miller is a friend, and he loves spending time with him, in part, he admits, “because he has cool cop stories.”

Kids and their family members departed Dick’s with big shopping bags over many shoulders, ready for that first day of school.