Why police in one town are giving out Christmas gifts instead of tickets

When Lowell, Michigan police officers swapped traffic violations for holiday gifts, they say they made citizens' days.

When a Lowell, Michigan, woman rolled down the window after a routine traffic violation, she expected a ticket. Instead, a police officer made her Christmas shopping a little bit easier.

“Got all your Christmas shopping done?” he asks in a YouTube video released Tuesday.

“No, haven’t even started.”

Lego Friends, an electric scooter — Scot VanSolkema, the officer who pulled her over, radioed her children’s holiday wishes to a team in a local department store, who bought the items. Officer VanSolkema returned to the car with the gifts, and the woman was incredulous.

As demonstrations nationwide protest a grand jury’s decision to not indict the New York police officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, the video shows citizens’ positive interactions with officers.

Detective Gordy Lauren, who distributed gifts, says he hopes the video combats negative stereotypes of police officials.

“Hopefully people don’t think that we’re putting out a feel-good story out there to squash what’s going on down south,” Detective Lauren says. “But hopefully people can understand that there is a softer side of law enforcement.”

Lauren notes that in most interactions with police, citizens are at a low point in their lives — at a traffic stop or reporting crime, for example.

Gift recipients will remember a positive interaction like this, he says.

“We’re hoping that this will stick with them and they’ll realize there is a lighter side of law enforcement,” he says. “We’re there to help the community. We don’t do it for the money, the glory, or being on the news — we do it to help people.”

He calls surprising would-be ticket recipients “awesome,” especially because many are very anxious as they interact with police.

“They don’t know how to react, especially if they’ve never been encountered by police before,” he says.

When they expect a ticket and receive an iPad, he says, “that blows them away.”

UP, an entertainment network that distributes inspirational videos, paid for the gifts and filmed the video in late November as part of its #upliftsomeone campaign. Officers pulled over 50 drivers for the video, WZZM reported.

Lori Hall, UP’s vice president of consumer marketing, says the company spent between $7,000 and $10,000 on gifts. 

With “turmoil” surrounding recent demonstrations, Ms. Hall says, the video shows that officers “are there to uplift people in their community.”

The video was created by Rob Bliss, whose company releases videos that aim to go viral. Earlier this fall, the company put out a video called “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” which showed a woman being harassed on the street.

“While we don’t encourage minor traffic violations, it’s important for police departments to take the time to show their citizens just how much they care,” a note at the end of the video reads. 

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