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Elves in blue hand out the green

Lake Placid police distribute 20 envelopes of $25 for Secret Santa

Lake Placid Police Department Patrolman Jesse Summo just handed an envelope of $25 from a Secret Santa to a man on Saranac Avenue. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — Don’t run through a stop sign or a red light hoping the Lake Placid Police Department will pull you over and hand you $25 in cash from a Secret Santa. That money’s all gone. You may get a ticket instead.

Late last week and early this week, police officers handed out 20 envelopes of $25 in cash to people around town, either on foot patrol or during a traffic stop. A Secret Santa had dropped off $500 to the police department and asked Assistant Police Chief Chuck Dobson if the officers would be willing to distribute the cash.

“They were glad to do it,” Dobson said. “A lot of times, despite our best efforts, our interactions can be negative with the public. It definitely brightened people’s days. People receiving envelopes of $25 cash instead of a ticket or a citation.”

The Secret Santa is a local business owner who grew up in Lake Placid and regularly donates money to local charities through the business and various fundraising efforts.

“I said, ‘Do it for people who are hard on their luck. It doesn’t have to be some fancy visitor,'” Secret Santa said.

Lake Placid’s Secret Santa saw a social media post about a wealthy man in the Midwest who had done something similar, asking law enforcement officers to hand out $100,000 — in $100 increments — to people around their city.

“He used to do it on his own, and then he recruited the police department to do it,” Secret Santa said. “So there’s all these videos of cops pulling people over. They’re all nervous and they get pulled over and then the cops go, ‘Oh, here you go. Here’s 100 bucks.'”

It turns out, there are many similar Secret Santas around the country who work with law enforcement during Christmastime to hand out cash. There are stories in Alabama, Detroit, Kansas City and Milwaukee — all with $100 bills.

In Lake Placid — a village that has many wealthy full-time and seasonal residents and visitors — this Secret Santa is not rich. And $500 is a chunk of money for a small business owner during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hurt a lot of local businesses.

Still, Secret Santa delivered — thanks to police officers such as Patrick Kane, a 2015 graduate of the Lake Placid High School who moved home after graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh. Someone took a video of Kane, wearing a face mask, during a traffic stop.

“Here’s your license back. I’m not going to write you a ticket. I’m actually going to give you the opposite,” said Kane, who proceeded to hand the motorist an envelope of $25. “We got a donation from an anonymous donor who reflected that we hand out a little bit of cash to people for the holidays. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, so he’s trying to make everyone’s holiday season better. All right, you have a good day.”

The white envelopes had the Lake Placid Police Department name and address stamped on them with “Happy Holidays From a Secret Santa” handwritten in red ink at the top.

Kane handed out about half the envelopes. He was at the office when the Secret Santa dropped off the $500.

“We received the donation, and there was two of us working that day, so we kind of just split them up and went out looking for people,” Kane said. “I tried to think of hard-working locals who could use the money, and it was awesome.”

Kane’s advantage is that he grew up in Lake Placid and knows locals who may be in need of some extra cash.

“They were happy I was working the day shift. I’m normally a night guy,” Kane said. “Who knows, that money could have gone toward their rent, into gas for their vehicle or put a meal on their table. People were surprised. It’s not something that police often do.”

One memorable donation for Kane came during a traffic stop.

“You have to find probable cause to pull them over,” he said. “The one person I knew, I actually went to school with. … She was surprised and said, ‘Why are you pulling me over?’ And I explained the situation and put a smile on her face. She just had a baby.”

The probable cause for the driver? No blinker, he thinks.

“It took a minute because I had to follow her around,” Kane said.