Today, as he has on the Sunday before Christmas for the past eight years, Santa will toss aside his gun and badge and temporarily leave his fire truck.

At least that's the case on the Sunday before Christmas at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Co. Hall, where the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 20, the Maryland Troopers Association Lodge 20 and the volunteer firefighters team up to play Santa for a day to 100 needy children who might otherwise not have a very merry Christmas.

The event is a welcome change for many of the officers, who think they're often perceived by children as being intimidating.

"One of my pet peeves is to be in a store in my uniform and to hear some parents tell their children that if they don't behave, they'll get me to lock them up," said Westminster City Police Cpl. Edward Ruby, president of the county FOP.

"But on the day of the party, all the guns, uniforms and badges go out the window," he said. "Those kids are only there to see one guy, and he isn't a police officer."

Ruby, who donned the big red suit for a couple of years, said sometimes kids at the party have a special significance to the officers.

"Many times we have been in their homes, and we know that they might not have much of a Christmas if it wasn't for this party."

The officers in the FOP and the MTA start their planning for the annual event in the springtime, when they conduct a golf tournament at Wakefield Valley Golf Club to raise money to buy toys for underprivileged tots.

On the Saturday before Christmas, some of the lodge members -- once as many as 15 -- take to the aisles of Lionel Kiddie City in Randallstown to find the gifts the county youngsters have told the Department of Social Services they most want to receive from Santa.

For the past several years, the toy store has given the officers a discount on everything they buy.

After their shopping expedition, the officers head to the Westminster Fire Hall, where they have a gift-wrapping party and a visit by Old St.

Nick for their own children.

But the biggest event doesn't occur until today, when 100 children and their parents will be treated to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings --courtesy of the fire department -- and gifts and Santa -- courtesy of the police department.

While the officers and firefighters have been playing host to the party since 1982, they have used the golf tournament to raise money only for the past few years.

State police Tfc. Mike Smith, president of the Carroll MTA lodge, said the officers were unable to put on the party in 1985 because their money was frozen in the crisis-plagued Old Court Savings & Loan Association.

"I think none of us realized how much the party meant to us until the year we couldn't have it," said Smith, who also has donned St.Nick's garb from time to time.

To make sure the children -- and the officers -- are never disappointed like that again, the group has conducted separate fund-raisers just to provide the money for today's event.

* On the more serious side of holiday programs for law enforcement, the city and state police will be increasing holiday patrols to keep speeders and drunken drivers off the roadways. The Westminster City Police will continue throughout the holidays issuing holiday summonses to remind shoppers to lock their car doors and remove property from vehicles.

* In another Christmas giving program, the Carroll FOP on Dec. 9 presented $25 Martin's Food Store gift certificates to 15 county families who have a member stationed in the Middle East with Operation Desert Shield.

The FOP provided the money for 14 of the certificates, and the other one was donated by the food store.

* The Westminster barracks of the state police this year adopted a family from the county Neighbors in Need program.

First Lt. Kenneth L. Tregoning, barracks commander, said he started the program this year "as a way of giving to those less fortunate than most of us."

He said the troopers have purchased several items the family members told human services programs they needed this year.

* The Westminster City Police, in keeping with a tradition of the last several years, placed a large box in police headquarters to collect food for needy families.

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