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Unique traffic stops in Missouri bring drivers to tears

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Earlier this month, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department was out looking for people. And when they spotted a subject, they went after them, in a sting operation the likes of which this country has never seen.

What made this operation especially unusual was the man behind it: a fellow in a red hat -- known to these men only as "Secret Santa."

"Secret Santa"
CBS News

Every year this anonymous, wealthy businessman gives out about a hundred thousand dollars worth of hundred dollar bills to random strangers. But this year, instead of doing it all himself, he deputized these deputies to give away much of it.

"Let's start with a thousand," Secret Santa said as he gave the deputies the money.

And so, armed to the teeth with Benjamins, the officers went out to do Santa's bidding. They specifically went after people they thought would appreciate it most. Cars driving while dented -- or out on Bondo -- were likely targets.

"Merry Christmas," a deputy said while handing money to a driver.

"You're kidding. Oh my God, no," answered the driver in disbelief.

Most people weren't just blown away -- most people were moved to tears. Their reactions were a combination of really needing the money and being caught off guard.

Jessica Rodriguez
CBS News

We saw Jessica Rodriguez, a mother of three, get pulled over. While the deputy walked to her car, Rodriguez talked to someone on her cell phone to tell them she'd been pulled over for "no cause."

"How you doing, m'am?" the deputy asked her.

"I'm good until you pulled me over," she answered.

"Okay, well, on behalf of Secret Santa, he wants you to have this, OK?" the deputy said as he handed her money.

Rodriguez told the deputy he saved her Christmas.

"I wasn't going to be able to get my kids anything," she told him.

"Well, I hope you may be able to get your kids something with it," he said.

As always, creating moments like that is the main mission here. But this year "Secret Santa" also had a secret agenda.

"What do you want the officers to get out of this?" I asked him.

"Joy," he answered. "You know, as tough as they are they have hearts that are bigger than the world."

Let's face it, it hasn't been a good year for law enforcement -- but for the vast majority of decent officers who will never make headlines -- Secret Santa offered this gift.

A chance to be bearer of good news for a change, a chance to really help the homeless, to thank the law-abiders, to see hands up in celebration and then be assaulted in the best possible way.

There were a lot of hugs. Our body cameras took a real beating, but it was worth it -- just to see people trust again and to see cops surrender.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.