SANFORD, Fla. – A Central Florida police department is putting its money where its mouth is.
Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith said his officers help the citizens they serve anyway they can, and sometimes that includes buying a warm meal, a cold A/C, or even a bicycle.
Now Chief Smith has gotten money from the City of Sanford to pay for those things so officers don’t have to use their own money.
Smith calls the Visa debit cards “compassion cards,” available for officers to use when paying for the basic daily needs of citizens they encounter.
Two patrol officers, rookie Darnell Boland and his Field Training Officer Toni-Anne Torres, recently used the cards to pay for the euthanization of a family dog after it was hit by a mail truck.
Therice Lee stopped by the Sanford Police Department earlier this month to thank Boland and Torres and hugged them profusely.
“They basically were like my heroes, because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Lee said.
Lee couldn’t afford the veterinary care nor the euthanization of her beloved Chichi.
“I got her because my mom died May 5, and she [Chichi] was born May 5,” Lee said.
Officers Boland and Torres responded to the scene after Lee called 911 for help.
“And by the time they got there, I was in the middle of the road crying,” Lee said.
So Torres, remembering her compassion card, told the vet she would pay the bill.
“I mean we’re not robots, we’re human beings, we responded to the situation,” Torres said.
Lt. Peter Justiniano, who oversees the compassion card giving, said officers don’t have to go into their own pockets if they don’t want to, thanks to the debit cards.
“They’re buying a sandwich for someone, something at a restaurant, a blanket because they’re cold,” Justiniano said. “A lot of these things are coming out of their pocket, they don’t want recognition, they’re not asking for reimbursement. They’re giving because that’s what they want to do, that’s why they came here.”
Lee said the officers showed compassion when she needed it most.
“Basically they both came and were like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I told her and I said, ‘I don’t have it.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’re going to take care of it, we’re going to take care of it, we’re going to do whatever we can to help you,’” Lee said. “And I was like, ‘For real?’ I was crying and looking at it both of them like who does that!”
The police department has 10 compassion cards that supervisors hold onto and give the patrol officers as needed.
But there is only one patrol officer who has a card on her at all times: Officer Torres. The department calls her their “go-to” officer for getting results.
The compassion cards come out of the $40,000 that the city gives the police department every year for community outreach.
Smith said the police department doesn’t use all of that money every year, partly because officers still want to give out of their own pockets without any recognition.