The Turlock Police Department is having to put their popular giving program Blue Santa on hiatus for this season because of budget and labor constraints.
Operation Blue Santa started in 2012 with the mission of providing toys and donated items to children and families in need. On average the program gave gifts to 163 children and 82 families each year, said Turlock Police spokesperson Sgt. Michael Parmley. The operation also included school and home visits by Blue Santa and presentations on crime prevention and safety.
“It really helped foster relations with people so that they saw us not just in our role as law enforcement,” Parmley said.
The logistics and planning for Operation Blue Santa started long before the holidays arrive. The police department made the decision they would not be able to carry out the program this year.
The Operation was funded through donations and relied heavily on volunteers, but there were some tasks like oversight of the budget and driving patrol vehicles that needed the labor of police personnel to be carried out. Those duties would be done on top of regular assigned roles, meaning there would be some overtime costs associated with the program.
“The overtime made up a small fraction of the overall hours spent on Blue Santa,” Parmley said.
Volunteering their time to perform some of the tasks wasn’t an option for the officers. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement states that an employee cannot volunteer services that would typically fall under their regular duties.
“This wasn’t a way to make money,” Parmley said. “The officers did it because they enjoyed the program.”
The police department, like other city departments, is operating on a strict budget and has staffing shortfalls, meaning it was not feasible to move forward with the program.
The department is hopeful that it is only a temporary hiatus and that Operation Blue Santa will return next year.