The Tustin Police Department started its Santa Cop event more than 30 years ago as a way to spread holiday cheer to families in need in the community.
Families enjoy a meal, receive presents, and participate in holiday-themed activities, highlighted by a visit with Santa Claus himself.
While keeping the community safe has been the department’s top priority during the coronavirus pandemic, officials wanted to be able to host Santa Cop along with the holiday festivities the community has come to expect.
So, for the second year in a row, Santa Cop was staged as a drive-through event, with Santa’s elves transforming the City Hall parking lot into a winter wonderland where families drove up to various stations to receive grocery gift cards, a sack of presents, steaming hot chocolate, and pajamas. Of course, a visit with Santa was included as well.
“The Community Relations Unit came in with a fresh attitude and fresh ideas and we challenged them to make something work for (the pandemic) and they’ve been doing it the whole time,” Police Chief Stu Greenberg said. “Their imagination and their ideas are phenomenal.”
Santa Cop started in 1989 with just a handful of families. This year’s Santa Cop included 85 families that were referred by schools, local churches, the Tustin Family and Youth Center and by the officers themselves.
Police Services Officers Jennifer Dlugitch and Zhanna Ismailov have been planning Santa Cop for the past few years.
“It’s one of the longest running events that the police department has been involved with,” Dlugitch said. “It’s all about how we can give back as a police department during Christmas time. It’s grown exponentially in terms of the number of families and children who got Christmas gifts who otherwise wouldn’t get them.”
Residents who don’t have access to transportation were sent Uber gift cards to get a ride to Santa Cop.
Resident Armando Chaparro and his family showed up on foot.
“They keep on inviting us to this amazing event,” said Chaparro, who came with his wife, their 7-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. “We’re happy, and we are especially happy for our children.”
Events such as Santa Cop exemplify Tustin Police Department’s role as community servants, said Lt. Ryan Coe, who oversees the planning of Santa Cop.
“It started with our last several chiefs and it’s just gained momentum, especially with Chief Greenberg,” Coe said. “The whole point of law enforcement at the end of the day is servanthood and guardianship. The resources unit that we have has embraced it so much and we’ve taken it to a whole other level.”
The Tustin Police Department hosts a variety of events for the community throughout the holiday season.
Thanksgiving meals were given out to families in November for that holiday and for 10 nights every December, Santa and his elves bring good tidings to virtually every block in the 11-square-mile city as part of the Santa Sleigh festivities.
“What is unique to me about Tustin is that this kind of relationship doesn’t stop at one event or one holiday,” Greenberg said. “It’s all year long. It’s all about taking something good to the community when the community needs it most.”