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Oakdales Santa Cop Spreading Christmas Joy
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Officer Rick Plath, AKA Santa Cop, poses with a couple of children just after surprising the duo with a stuffed teddy bear and Candy Cane during a traffic stop. Photo Courtesy Oakdale Police

You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why; Santa Cop is patrolling this town.

There’s a lawman in town and it’s not Kris Kringle. The man with the badge, red Santa hat, blinking lights on his uniform, and bag of goodies is Oakdale Police Department’s own Officer Rick Plath, who is going around the city delivering presents and candy canes to the good boys and girls he finds.

Officer Plath has been conducting “Operation Christmas Santa Cop” – as it is known around the police station – since the first week in December when he returned home from a trip to Disneyland where the idea inspired him.

While vacationing, Officer Plath said he noticed Christmas tree lights designed as necklaces in the gift shops and thought those trinkets, combined with Santa garb and candy canes, would be ideal in distributing some toys and teddy bears that had been donated to the department by the Modesto Elks Club and the Howard Training Center.

The veteran officer said he wanted to spread back the joy of Christmas time.

“The chief gave me his blessing and turned me loose,” Plath said.

Occasionally Plath will use another police employee, dressed with a set of reindeer antlers, to accompany him for the holiday detail.

“When I started this, it would be later in the evening and I was going to many of the fast food places here,” explained Officer Plath, who works the evening shift. “There were not many children there and I decided to start hitting some of the ‘sit-down’ places around town.”

When Officer Plath in his Santa cap, lighted necklace, and bright red Santa bag showed up at Firenze Ristorante, it was an instant hit with patrons and staff alike.

“When I first did it, everybody ate it up,” Plath said of his walk through of the North Yosemite Avenue eatery. “It was really satisfying. Much more kids there.”

Since his first appearance, Officer Plath said he’s been called back several times, telling him when there were groups of children there, one time getting pulled in to sing Happy Birthday with staff.

Police lights flashing in your rearview mirror is rarely, if ever, a good sign, right?

Unless the patrol car pulling you over happens to be Officer Plath loaded with lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.

In between calls for service, Officer Plath also takes time to make a few car stops, looking for younger children where he delivers each a candy cane and stuffed animal.

The son of a 30-year veteran Stockton cop, Officer Plath said his goal is to deliver to citizens a positive encounter with the police, trying to dispel the “you better be good or they’re going to arrest you” image that parents sometimes say.

“When we show up at calls, we have a uniform with all this equipment,” Officer Plath said. “When we can, we partner with parents to have conversations with kids and the community and not be so intimidating.”