By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

They don’t come with bubble gum, and they’ll never match the auction value of a Mickey Mantle rookie card. But the new trading cards from the Sandy Springs Police Department give children something to cheer.

The cards are just like baseball cards, including brief bios on the back, but they feature police officers instead of ball players.

The department’s first set has four cards: Specialized Officer Mike Dewald with K-9 Amos; Specialized Officer Hyon Yi; Sgt. R.D. Nable; and Sgt. Scott Levy. Six more cards are in production.

Each time officers speak to a school or youth group, they pass out the free cards.

Lt. Steve Rose said he first made police trading cards while working for Fulton County. He came across Elwyn, Pa.-based Choice Marketing, which makes glossy cards for minor-league teams. Choice charges $159 for 2,000 cards, which Rose said will last each officer about a year.

The cards helped the Fulton police, he said. “You had to look for some public relations advantages because we didn’t have much manpower.”

Rose decided to try to duplicate the success in Sandy Springs. Neighborhood organizations and local companies sponsor the cards, so they don’t cost the city anything.

“With something like this, there’s no downside if the money is there, and the community has really jumped in,” Rose said.

Residents of the Mountaire Springs neighborhood off Johnson Ferry Road sponsored a forthcoming card for Lt. Keith Zgonc, who oversees the night shift in their area.

Joe Wittman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, noted that two years ago the police caught a thief who was stealing from the whole neighborhood. Sponsoring a card is one way the neighborhood can show its support and gratitude, he said. “Our community is very appreciative of the police, so we help them whenever we can.”

The Atlanta Women’s Health Group, which is on Barfield Road near the police station, sponsored the card for Officer Yi. Brenda Cameron, the office manager for the group, said she was glad to have a way to make a neighborly contribution.

“I just took it upon myself to go down there to introduce myself and to let them know that we are here — mostly all women. And I take goodies down there two or three times a year for the guys,” she said. “We are supporting them because they’re supporting us.”

The cards help the police become more accessible, she said. “It’s wonderful for the kids. It kind of makes you feel like you’re one-on-one with them. I think it’s a great thing.”

The officers carry markers to autograph the cards for kids, Rose said. He said some businesses post a card by the cash register to hint to potential crooks: “Read between the lines. We know the police.”

The cards help more people know the police.

“I want people to remember who we are. Especially with middle school kids — you’re talking about drug education, and you want them to remember that the police are the good guys,” Rose said. “It kind of breaks down that barrier, and you always want to keep up that relationship.”