Megan Ligal saw the police lights flashing behind their vehicle and figured her husband failed to yield to pedestrians as they pulled into a Target store in Roseville, with their four kids in tow.
The couple, in fact, hadn’t done anything wrong. And, instead of a ticket, they received an early Christmas present – a $50 Target gift card, courtesy of the Roseville Police Department.
The Utah family was back in town for the holidays following the death of Megan Ligal’s mother from cancer a few weeks ago, she said.
The Ligals’ SUV was among just a handful of vehicles stopped Wednesday by officers, who doled out $1,000 worth of Target and Walmart gift cards over the past few days. It’s the first year the department has tried to bring a bit of Christmas cheer to traffic stops.
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Five officers in the department’s motor unit handed out the gift cards, which were donated by Roseville’s Rotary Club and the Police Department’s charitable arm.
“We try and find people who are deserving-looking,” said Officer Eric Eastman, a 14-year veteran of the department who stopped the Ligal family.
Eastman is typically on the prowl for speeders or bank robbers and other criminals. As a motorcycle cop, most of the time, the work is “offensive,” like engaging reckless drivers or pursuing a chase, he said.
For Eastman, 45, the experience of handing out gift cards rather than sending people to jail was a welcome change.
“Most of our contacts are kind of negative in nature,” Eastman said. “They know generally the outcome is going to be getting a ticket, or worse.”
Officers this week searched for drivers with minor infractions, including cracked windshields and broken taillights. They were also eying cars that “aren’t brand new” and perhaps loaded with children, Eastman said.
The idea was simple: they could educate motorists while delivering some holiday cheer. But finding the right person is “kind of hard sometimes” because Roseville is rather affluent, Eastman said.
As a result, officers spent some time patrolling the lower-income areas of the city and visiting thrift shops.
Eastman emphasized that community outreach is important in an era when public criticism of police nationwide has reached fever pitch. While the police received plenty of warm wishes from passersby outside the Target store Wednesday, one woman complained that the officers could not park their motorcycles on the sidewalk and threatened to sue the city of Roseville.
But Officer Danny Miller, 49, received a welcoming response when he stopped Brooke Little on Wednesday in the Target parking lot. The Citrus Heights resident gave him a big hug. She had her 13-month-old son in the back seat and only $20 to spend on gifts, she told the officer.
The unexpected gift brought her to tears.