By Brandi Makuski
Young bicyclists in Stevens Point be aware — the cops are watching you.
Stevens Point police officers will once again begin stopping young bike riders who are “caught” doing something right on the sidewalks, roadways and intersections of the city. The return of the positive reinforcement program was the idea of the Stevens Point Police Officers Organization — the city’s police union — as a way to build positive habits for young people, according to Officer Brian Brooks.
“I remember when patrol [officers] used to hand out Brewer’s baseball cards,” Brooks said. “I remember I wanted those Brewer’s cards — so when I saw an officer driving, I’d remember to do my bicycle hand signals and all that stuff,” he said, laughing. “Anything to encourage them to stop.”
The department has a long history of maintaining some kind of regular, positive community contact, Brooks said, having once rewarded elementary school students who participated in school crossing cadet duty with new bicycles or trips to Great America. While those programs were eliminated due to a shrinking city budget, officers still try to stop and chat with young citizens as often as they can.
Now, Stevens Point police have partnered with two local soft serve stands — Belts’ and Carl D’s — to create a coupon program for free ice cream. Patrol officers will pass out “Belts’ Bucks” or “Carl D’s Bucks” randomly when they see local youngsters following the law. Brooks said the two businesses donated a total of about $600 worth of soft serve for the program.
After the police officer’s union kicked in part of the cash for the coupons, “both businesses made a very, very generous offer for us,” Brooks said, adding police had enough coupons for about 200 “positive” stops.
The union’s new charitable contributions committee organized the program, Brooks said, to give a little more “establishment and organization” to the group’s charitable giving. The union’s two main fundraisers — spring’s walleye tournament held in Bukolt Park; and Run From the Cops, held in the fall — are designed to, at least in part, raise money for programs like this one, Brooks said.
“So often we’re dealing with kids when they’re not in a great situation, because we’re called when there’s an emergency, or a problem with a parent or family member,” Brooks said. “Having that positive interaction with kids leaves such an impact on them, and it’s really good for us, too, but leaving that good impact is now more important than ever.”
According to Brooks, the program will target kids who are “demonstrating good bicycle safety; wearing helmets, stopping at stop signs, looking both ways, falling in line when they’re riding in a group, things like that.”
“Being able to take money and spend it on these things, we’re able to do that, and it’s fun. It makes you feel good,” Brooks said. “We plan to start it sometime this week.”