Cortland police give out gift certificates instead of traffic tickets

Abbott preparing the last gift certificate Tuesday afternoon at the 67 Main Street Office of Community Policing. Sarah Bullock/Staff Photo

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Officers gave away $25 gift certificates redeemable at downtown businesses instead of tickets Monday and Tuesday as a way to strengthen ties between the department and the community, as well as spread some holiday cheer, said Officer Jesse Abbott, who is in charge of running the department’s community policing office. The office is funded by a four-year federal grant, as well as donations.

Officers stopped nine drivers for minor infractions, such as an equipment violation, and then surprised them with the gift, Abbott said. Abbott gave a tenth gift certificate to a woman walking downtown who opted to wait for the crosswalk instead of jaywalking to get out of Tuesday’s frigid temperatures.

Abbott got the idea last year while pondering how to reach out to more adults as he was on his way into work. Most of the department’s community activities, such as Coffee with a Cop and Santa held last weekend, are aimed at families and children, Abbott said. Giving gift certificates to drivers gives officers a chance to have upbeat moments with grown-ups.

“Why not take a possibly stressful situation and turn it into a positive situation?” he said.

While also building and strengthening existing relationships, the programs allowed officers the chance to have fun interacting with the public. City officers respond to 16,000 complaints a year, which is stressful for a small department, Abbott said.

“ gives officers holiday cheer.”

Since the gift certificates are only redeemable at downtown businesses, it’s also a way to draw some customers into the city’s historic district, he added.

The gift certificates received overwhelming support on Facebook, with some commenters posting their route home from work with a request to get “pulled over.” Abbott noted it is illegal for officers to pull over anyone who has not committed an infraction.

Debbie Stauber Gross wrote on the community office’s Facebook page, “I love how the City Police are doing so much to make our Community better! Thank you for all you do! Merry Christmas!”