For over three hours on Tuesday, the Philadelphia Police Department’s 14th District headquarters was transformed into a Christmas playground, with 45 first and second-graders from nearby Imani Education Circle Charter School visibly – and audibly – enjoying themselves and all that the holiday season has to offer.
And the cops pulled out all the stops, slinging slices of pizza and helping Santa give out gifts in anticipation of his big day, all while keeping the children engaged with performances by a magician and a clown.
Officer Synell Hall, community relations officer with the 14th District, got in on the act as well, picking up a set of sleigh bells and accompanying harpist Cynthia Bilger for a couple of verses of “Jingle Bells.”
Hall, a 16-year veteran of the 14th District new to the community relations post – she started in November – was the event’s coordinator. She said that the festivities allow police to share a “moment with the community” and allow children to see police officers in another setting.
“A lot of work went into this day to make sure that it was a memorable occasion for the youth,” said Hall, noting the help from 14th District staff, especially new Crime Prevention Officer Lesinette Ortiz. Hall also praised the generous support given by numerous local businesses, community members, and State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia).
Capt. John Fleming, who recently took over the post, also visited for a few moments, inspecting the food spread and taking in the boisterous merriment of the children.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to foster our relationships with the community, and let them know that the police care,” said Fleming, who praised his staff for their dedication to the annual event.
“It’s Officer Hall’s first Christmas Party as community relations officer, and it’s the first for Officer Ortiz, and I would say that they did an outstanding job.”
Fleming’s assessment was shared by others, young and old alike.
Gwendolyn Washington-Smith, a special education teacher at Imani, located in Germantown, said that the 14th District party nicely complemented Kwanzaa celebrations at the school.
“The Christmas party is a nice change of pace,” said Washington-Smith. “The kids look forward to it every year.”
Mekhi Rogers said he liked “everything” about the party.
After a few minutes of deliberation, student Brasen Avent said he particularly enjoyed two elements of the party: “Santa Claus, and the magician.”
For Bilger, the joyous clamor that came forth from the kids upon the arrival of Beans the Clown represented the sounds of the season.
Looking towards the children from her harp, she remarked, “That’s the greatest noise in the world.”