SOLEDAD — There are moments in Soledad when a group of police cars, with their lights flashing and sirens roaring, is a sign of something peaceful. In these instances, the driving officers getting on their loudspeakers to sing or declare “Happy Birthday” makes their purpose clear.
Police officers have been driving by houses to surprise children on their birthdays during the shelter-in-place orders. They are a more noticeable way to liven up a birthday in an ever-increasing tradition of families organizing drive-by birthday well-wishing for their young ones.
“Folks have been locked up in their houses for a long time now,” said Soledad Police Chief Damon Wasson. “We try to do everything we can to help the community get through this. If driving by grandma’s house with lights and sirens helps, we’ll do it.”
The idea came about after the department hosted an Easter egg scavenger hunt, where they called upon the community to post paintings, drawings or cut-outs of Easter eggs around town, and then police would take pictures of those.
Wasson said the officers decided to use their driving around town to further boost morale. Combined with a birthday request for a family member of a city hall employee, the department was inspired to pursue the idea for birthdays.
“It took off from there, and now we get phone calls, emails, text messages,” Wasson said. “If the guys aren’t out on a call, we’ll be more than happy to drive by.”
People can contact the department through various means, through calls, emails or even the department’s Facebook page. Officers will figure out who is available along with a supervising sergeant to visit a community member for their birthday.
Beyond police, Wasson said they’ve been reaching out to other agencies, such as the fire department and AMR.
“It’s not just us, it’s the whole community,” he said. “We’ll line up down the street, we’ll stage, turn lights and sirens on and drive by.”
Usually, the supervising sergeant will be the one on the loudspeaker to wish the person a happy birthday.
“For the most part, if somebody asks us to do this and we are available to and able to do it, we’ll make it happen,” Wasson said.
The impromptu program will continue through the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to uplift those who could use a bit of celebration, according to Wasson. He said he’d like to continue it after the pandemic settles down, but that will have to be determined later.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit to do this all the time,” Wasson said.
So far, the department has performed more than one dozen birthday drive-by celebrations. The requests have expanded, as well, as one father called to request a drive-by for his daughter graduating from college.
“I feel for these college kids,” Wasson said. “When I graduated, I got to walk across the stage. I got my master’s degree handed to me and it was really a great feeling… To have put five years into going to college, and now they don’t get to walk across the stage, if we can drive by the house and say congratulations and we can make it happen, we’re going do it.”
The department takes requests for upcoming birthdays but has noted it is possible for emergencies to interrupt a birthday visit. Families wishing to organize a birthday surprise by police can email [email protected] or call 831-223-5120.