ST. PAUL, Minn. - To walk the streets of St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood now, you might never know how rough the area was in the 1990s.
"It was a perception that if the cops were getting out of the car to talk to you, you've done something wrong," explained Arnoldo "Arnie" Curiel, Asst. Professor at the College of St. Scholastica. "They weren't necessarily people that you trusted. We used to call it 'drive by policing'."
But Curiel wanted Frogtown to change. He had grown up there and he had an idea. He called it "Shop with Cops."
Curiel set up a system of raising money and finding volunteers in the police department and in the public. Then, he arranged to get them all together on one day in December for some retail therapy. He started the program with just 20 kids in 1999. Last year, there were 270 children who took part.
"Really, the shopping is about them buying things for their family members and then after they're all done buying for their family members, they buy for themselves. We ask the parents to send them with a rough Christmas list," said Curiel.
He added, "It's really not about the gift. It's about the relationship with the police officer and it's also about that child being able to buy something for Mom and Dad."
It's about a generation of Frogtown kids who know the men and women in blue and become their friends.
"A lot of people talk about what they've done or what they want to do to make something better, said St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith. "Arnie was of the big reasons why we turned that community around to one of the safest communities."