March 23 • 08:59 PM

Christmas shopping with fun-loving sheriff deputies

December 23, 2009
Editor's note: This is another in a series of columns written by Doug Hunter as he rides along with St. Clair County Sheriff's deputies. This ride-along was a little different than the usual patrols and drug busts for the longtime area resident, writer and historian.

The famous line from the story is true: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

But sometimes he doesn't come dressed in red and white, riding in a jingle-belled sleigh. Occasionally he is uniformed in brown and driving a black and white.

Sgt. Scott Jones of the St. Clair County Sheriff's Dept. calls me up and asks if my wife Juanita and I would like to go Christmas shopping with him, his wife Debra and the deputies and dispatchers of "B Shift" and their spouses.

Sgt. Jones is a Will Rogers-type man, quick-witted and with a perennial smile that goes from ear to ear. He constantly philosophizes as he talks and keeps me enamored and in stitches at times with his speaking skills and euphemisms, much like the late Will Rogers. The briefings by him before B Shift hits the road keep the deputies' morale high and they are informed in a way that they can never forget his advice.

The goal of this shopping spree is different. This expedition is for the less fortunate of our county, the often maligned and forgotten children who the Sgt. says are the hope of our future.

On their day off, these men and women dressed in brown whom we often cuss at when we see the flashing lights on our rearview mirrors show their real colors. Just color them sensational as they give their time and heard-earned money for the youngest and least fortunate of our society.

We all meet at the Salvation Army Christmas tree at Birchwood Mail. The tree has cards hanging from it with boys and girls from all over our county who are without this holiday season. Each card has a name with what they need from Santa: Winter coats, shirts, pants and shoes are most notable, along with sizes.

Each deputy takes one or more cards and begins a shopping frenzy. Carts are crashing as dispatcher Heather with her two small children, husband Paul and me and Juanita push and shove to get to the nearest shoes for the two girls they chose. Then the crazed deputies move into the coats for tots section in Target. Scott and Kerri spot the same coat. There is no way I am getting in between these two.

Scott, the lanky, tall deputy, has met his match. Kerri, the petite deputy, is not giving in. Where are those flashing lights in my mirror now, I wonder.

I look at Tina, the dispatcher, to referee the coat fiasco. She responds true to dispatch form. She calls Sgt. Jones. He doesn't answer. I know why. He has done this before. Was it the wisdom of age or is it the tyranny of age? Where is our leader, I wonder, and his wife wonders too.

Just then Jason comes to the rescue, I think. Wrong! He takes the coat and races away like a purse snatcher.

Laughing heartily, somebody steals the shoes I got for the 8-year-old. I choose the last pair in that size and style. Staring at my now almost-empty cart, I see a hand come through the jackets and reach down to take the prized coat Juanita took from Heather the dispatcher.

Grabbing the hand I bellow "Got you! You're under arrest." The reply is quick as usual: "No you don't! You forgot to Mirandize me."

Sgt. Jones has once again out-talked me. If I get arrested some day I hope it's not by him! If there's honor among thieves shouldn't the same apply to deputies, I loudly petition. In redress the reply is again fast and witty. "Not during shopping for kids day, Mr. Writer."

Moving away I meet Curtis, a deputy who has just arrived. He says, "No problem shopping. Just don't leave your cart unattended. You know how B Shift is. They work hard and play just as hard."

After all I had witnessed in the last six months with these deputies and dispatchers, it feels good to see them in a relaxed and fun setting. The stress and pressure these public servants endure daily is immeasurable.

After shopping and taking the items we purchased for the less fortunate, we take the many articles back to the Salvation Army tree. A very kind staff of people label and gift wrap them all.

The dispatchers and deputies of B Shift had taken care of five separate families consisting of 10 children. I personally despise shopping but I had so much fun. It was like being a kid at Christmas all over again.

Afterwards we all go out to dinner and as Will Rogers once said—or was it Sgt. Jones— "I never met a cop I didn't like."

Regardless, Juanita and I really enjoyed ourselves and we will do this again. After all, "it is better to give than to receive." I don't know who said that, but nobody said it clearer than B Shift this season.

On behalf of Sheriff Tim Donnellon, his entire staff, and yours truly—Merry Christmas and have a happy and safe New Year.

Email Doug at

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