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Sheriff Staly Rips Target over Cancelled ‘Shop with a Cop’ Event

Sheriff Rick Staly at a quarterly law enforcement awards ceremony earlier this year. ⓒ AskFlagler

In an open letter to Target CEO Brian Cornell on Friday, Sheriff Rick Staly made it known that he did not appreciate the supermarket chain pulling the plug on the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s first annual ‘Shop with a Cop’ event. No official reason was given to explain why Target as a corporation decided not to support the event, which succeeded a similar one which had taken place there since 2008. Held instead at Walmart on Monday the 13th, it would’ve been Sheriff Staly’s first time running the annual children’s gift program since he ended retired Sergeant Larry Jones’ event, ‘Christmas with a Deputy’.

Both Jones’ previous event and Staly’s new one focus on bringing underprivileged youth to go Christmas shopping where their parents may not be able to do so for them. Last week’s Walmart shopping spree was still able to take 122 local kids shopping, with around $16,000 raised by donations from FCSO deputies and other community members.

Staly’s full letter to Target’s CEO reads as follows:

When Target Corporation directed the local Palm Coast Target to cancel the Flagler Sheriff’s Children’s Charities planned Shop with a Cop event, the Grinch paid a visit. The Grinch then found a heart and joined FCSO and others in taking 125 kids on a free shopping spree to Walmart! (Paid for by donations from FCSO employees and the community.) Thank you Walmart for stepping-up and supporting Flagler Sheriff’s Children’s Charities Shop with a Cop event. See you next year!
𝐑𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐒𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐟𝐟 𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐲’𝐬 𝐥𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐨 𝐓𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐭’𝐬 𝐂𝐄𝐎 𝐛𝐞𝐥𝐨𝐰:
Mr. Brian Cornell
December 15, 2021
Chairman & CEO
Target Corporation
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Dear Chairman Cornell:
Like many law enforcement agencies across the country the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Target for over a decade to provide a “Shop with a Cop” holiday shopping spree for local children who might not otherwise have Santa visit their home.
This year was to be the same. We worked with your local Palm Coast store, selected a date and your employees were once again excited to participate. Then on October 6, 2021 my staff received an email abruptly cancelling the partnership. We were told Target “retired” the “Heroes & Helpers” program and was “introducing a new give-back program to serve our communities, anchored to our purpose of helping families discover the joy of everyday life. We’ll be expanding our impact and reach, partnering directly with local nonprofits organizations across the country to provide families in need with essentials, gifts and more.” When we informed Target staff that Flagler Sheriff’s Children’s Charities was a nonprofit 501(C)(3) the email was ignored and no response was received.
A Google search quickly found many articles and carefully worded statements by Target’s Corporate public relations teams dating to 2020 in which Target denies it was “dropping its sponsorship of its annual holiday ‘Shop with a Cop’ event” (at least for 2020). When reviewing Target corporate policies under “Safety & Preparedness” we noted claims like:
  • “We have thousands of public safety partnerships across the country.”
  • “Target is a committed partner… Providing more than ‘Corporate Lip Service’ and genuinely reach out and engage the public safety community.”
  • “Target is a shining example of public-private partnership.”
Your recent actions demonstrate these statements are little more than corporate propaganda. As with any attempt to deceive or influence the public your statements provide the tiniest grain of truth in an attempt to paint a false narrative. So far in 2021, we have responded to 428 calls for service to the Palm Coast store. Further, since I became Sheriff in 2017, we have handled more than 3,870 calls for service to your Palm Coast store. In this aspect, you have definitely “engaged the [local] public safety community.” However, as to partnering with law enforcement it is evident your organization has elected to follow the pathway of political convenience.
As the Target Corporation displayed “Grinch” like behavior in cancelling the partnership at the last minute we went to your competitor Walmart who welcomed us with open arms. On December 10, 2021, we took over 125 culturally diverse children partnered with over 125 law enforcement, corrections and professional support employees shopping. Starting with a party, train rides, face painting, crafts, games and much more they rode in patrol cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring to Walmart (ironically, we drove by Target on our way to Walmart).
I am very proud of our employees and their support for the nonprofit Flagler Sheriff’s Children’s Charities. Annually, our employees donate over $30,000.00 to support the two official charities of Flagler Sheriff’s Children’s Charities – Shop with a Cop and the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches. For this event they donated almost $16,000.00. Community supporters donated as well and together each child received $175.00 to buy presents for themselves, their brothers, sisters, moms, and dads. Many “chaperones” took money out of their own pockets when the children selected gifts totaling over the limit to bring a smile to a child’s face.

The FCSO thought Target acted rather grinchy this year. ⓒ Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

After the shopping spree the children ate hamburgers and hot dogs and were then taken back home. For siblings who could not go shopping our team gave them bags full of donated toys so they did not feel left out and we made every effort to care for the entire family. This was a team effort, a partnership between the law enforcement community and Walmart. This is community policing and building bridges with our future at its best! A concept you have apparently abandoned by cancelling your partnership with law enforcement for the holidays.

In closing, I want to make it very clear this is not about your local Palm Coast Target store employees. We enjoy a positive relationship with our local store, which we will continue to build upon. Your employees were looking forward to this event before Corporate shut it down. Not only did the local Target employees enjoy seeing the big smiles on the children’s faces but they appreciated the thousands of dollars in sales this event brought to the store, which helped meet their revenue and sales goals. I do not take issue with our local store, rather it is your corporate decision to end a very successful partnership which I find to be ill-conceived and short sighted. The “Heroes & Helpers” program was a proven mechanism which built relationships with first responders, the community and Target. It appears the Target Corporation has taken the path of political expediency throwing away an established relationship and a proven program for no gain.
Please understand the purpose of this letter, it is not seeking financial support or backing, as you can see we take care of our own. Rather, this letter is designed to highlight the hypocrisy and double-speak which your organization demonstrates. Caving into divisive rhetoric does not build a community but erodes its foundation.
I support your right to end our partnership however, it comes with a price; while I doubt it impacts your bottom line you have lost a customer in both my wife and I. Further, I will educate my peers within the law enforcement community about your corporate action and decision. Finally, I will take the opportunity to discuss Target’s position in every public forum with which I have a platform.
Sincerely,
RICK STALY
Sheriff

The FCSO also had their resident ‘grinch’ go out for a photo opportunity in front of Target’s main road sign along SR-100. As of the writing of this article, Staly’s letter has been shared on Facebook over 31,000 times. It earned the stamp of approval from other local elected officials, such as Palm Coast Councilman Ed Danko, County Commissioner Joe Mullins, and School Board Jill Woolbright. It was even shared by former NRA president, Marine Corps Lt Col, and key Iran-Contra Affair figure Oliver North.

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A stack of gifts given out under retired Sgt Larry Jones’ continued program. Photo courtesy of ‘Christmas with Community Heroes’.

Though the dispute with Target drew Staly’s ire, he still had glowing remarks about the eventual Walmart event, his first since commandeering the mission. “Shop with a Cop was a great success, and I appreciate everyone that donated and all FCSO employees who volunteered to take part in this amazing event,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “I’m very proud of our team that not only serves the community every day but also gives back to our community to help build a positive relationship between children and law enforcement. Not only did they volunteer their time but they donated almost $16,000.00 to support the event and many reached into their pocket to pay any overage from their child’s shopping spree. I encourage members of our community to support Flagler Sheriff’s Children’s Charities by making a tax-deductible donation. Our team truly enjoyed this experience and being able to watch the children get into the holiday spirit.”

Children were selected for ‘Shop with a Cop’ via nomination by FCSO deputies and Flagler Schools staff. As it has been any time the FSCO has taken kids shopping, last week’s trip was quite well-attended by deputies, who volunteered both their time and money.

Meanwhile, Jones continued his own event under the new name, ‘Christmas with Community Heroes’. It was both his and the FCSO’s 14th years doing an event, though they now do so separately from one another. Though Jones no longer has a whole team of deputies volunteering their time, his operation is continued with the support of community volunteers, all of whom are put through background checks to ensure safety.

UPDATE 12/21 8:55 pm: Target has issued a response, which they delivered to The Police Tribune:

“Unfortunately, a miscommunication earlier this year resulted in the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office being told that Target was retiring our Heroes & Helpers program.

“We’ve reached out to the sheriff’s office to apologize for this miscommunication,” the spokesman continued. “In fact, Target is supporting Heroes & Helpers this year in partnership with first responders across the country, including firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and law enforcement.

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“In Flagler [County] specifically, we worked with the local fire department and donated $5,000 to purchase gifts for underserved children in the community. In addition, we’ve donated more than $1 million nationwide and helped more than 4,000 families through our new community giving program, the Great Gifttogether. We also made a $1 million contribution to Toys For Tots to support even more kids in 2021.”

Sheriff Staly did not accept Target’s explanation. He said, “this is pure propaganda and trying to re-write history.” He also accused Target of manipulating the facts when it came to their other local acts of philanthropy.

UPDATE 12/23 4:34 pm: Sheriff Staly is doing a tour of appearances on conservative news networks to rally support, including Newsmax and One America News Network.

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Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. TR

    December 19, 2021 at 9:59 pm

    Mixed feeling on this issue. I don’t agree that the entire program should have been changed just because the founder retired from the force and then Stayle took away the support from the deputies and made it his own program. Now the new program under stayle is kinda misleading to some thinking it’s the original program from Mr. Jones.

    I don’t blame Target for dropping the program from Stayle. It’s only fitting if he wants his own program, he needs to do the shopping elsewhere. Other wise it still leads some people to believe it’s the original program.

    I’m glad that there were so many kids that got to go shopping with a deputy. But with two programs during a struggling economy, it’s sad that it’s not handled by the original founder, Mr. Jones.

    • BW

      December 20, 2021 at 12:37 pm

      You missed the point. Target didn’t cancel it because he changed their program. They canceled the Shop with a Cop (for lack of a better title) because Target is caving to the “cops are bad” mentality. My family and I will not be shopping at Target anymore. I hope that other families will be doing the same.

  2. TR

    December 20, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    Amazing how you came to the reason why target cancelled the participation of the event when in the article is states that there was no reason for target to drop out of the program. I guess it’s just an assumption on your part for the reasoning.

    • Michael Hubbard

      December 25, 2021 at 5:20 pm

      Everyone missed the point. Target nationwide dropped their shop with the Sheriff program. The involved employees were told it was they wanted to distance Target from supporting law enforcement. This was not a local or regional cancellation, it was nationwide.

  3. Npark

    December 21, 2021 at 12:57 am

    This is confusing, because an article written back on November 8th states that this was planned to happen at Walmart all along.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.palmcoastobserver.com/article/fcso-plans-shop-with-a-cop-event-hosted-by-flagler-sheriffs-childrens-charities%3famp

    So when and why was it changed to Target? Or is this guy just trying to create drama from nothing?

  4. EHG

    December 22, 2021 at 3:00 am

    Come on people. This is about giving to children!! Not about where you can or can’t shop or who gets the most publicity, who is right and who is wrong. It is about making children smile and giving a little extra to families. These children will remember this for the rest of their lives! I have been so blessed this year meeting new people and making so many children happy. My heart is full this year. My number one priority is the children! One child told me “this is the best day of my life!” There is nothing better than that. That is what we all should be focusing on. Target has been great in the past and Walmart was fantastic this year. Please people, focus on the positive, not the negativity, the children of our community.

  5. Doreen N Tracy

    December 27, 2021 at 4:56 pm

    It’s all a misunderstanding “now!” Because the sheriff called Target out! I’ll never shop at Target again! Boycott Target! Thank you, Walmart!!!

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