The afternoon sun was streaming through fading clouds as 5-year-old Clara Faulkenberry rode her tricycle Tuesday on Randall Street, sporting a pink Disney Princess helmet. Clara’s face was full of confusion as a city patrolman stopped her to give her a ticket — a ticket for a free ice cream cone as a reward for wearing her helmet.
Clara told Community Policing Officer Jesse Abbott she wasn’t sure if she had ever gotten a ticket before and her parents giggled on the sidewalk. But she was sure her favorite flavor was soft-serve vanilla with sprinkles.
Abbott was busy Tuesday passing out ice cream “tickets” to boys and girls wearing their bicycle helmets, waiting for the crosswalk on Main Street and doing random good deeds in the city. The treats are paid for by The Deli Downtown on Main Street, as well as other donations and the federally-funded Office of Community Policing, in an effort to forge friendly relationships between city police officers and citizens.
Abbott gave out about a dozen tickets Tuesday, scouring the different wards of the city for bicyclists (and tricyclists) in helmets and pint-sized pedestrians. His 50-ticket pad, styled to look like a city parking ticket, had plenty of tear offs ready for children wearing their helmets.
The program is a variation of other “ticket” programs at police departments, such as two in Tompkins County, that are participating in what seems to be a grassroots, nation-wide ice cream public relations campaign.
“But this is good because it focuses more on the kids and it educates them on bicycle safety and pedestrian safety,” Abbott said. “And of course in the end it builds new relationships between our police department and the youth.”
It is important for city residents to see police officers in a setting that is not a stressful emergency situation, said Mayor Brian Tobin.
“It’s another example of how our police department goes above and beyond, and is very active in community policing,” Tobin said. “All this is great people doing good things.”
Jory, 6, of Charles Street was certainly pleased with his ice cream “ticket,” giving Abbot a high-five, a thank you and a smile from under his Spiderman helmet. His grandfather said they had just come outside to ride his tricycle in the afternoon sun.
Outside the Cortland Free Library, Abbott found three children in helmets ready to ride their bikes away, a book and brand-new library card in tow. One boy with a leaf blower got a ticket for cleaning his Bank Street sidewalk with his dad. Five children waited patiently for the crosswalk to signal it was safe to cross Main Street and received their just desserts.
As they sat around a Deli Downtown sidewalk table, the five children sported smiles and sweets all around.