Area Police Try Sweeter Approach

  • On their Ice Cream Patrol Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello and Patrol Officer Emily Winslow hand ice cream out in Lebanon N.H., on Aug. 10 2017. Angie Hinton with her dog, of Lebanon, left, Jelani Fuller, 8, his brother Keyon Fuller, 4, of Manchester, N.H. Alaina Severance, 5, of Lebanon, and Chloe Davis, 7, of Lebanon. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Angelmarie Murphy, 4, of Lebanon, N.H. is handed a fruit pop by Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello on Aug. 10, 2017. With him is Lebanon Patrol Officer Emily Winslow. They were on ice cream patrol, handing ice cream out in town at different locations. Brian Bates, left, of Lebanon was at the Rivermere Community Housing complex with his daughter when the patrol arrived. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At Rivermere Community Housing, Lebanon Patrol Officer Emily Winslow waves goodbye while on ice cream patrol. Ava Alexander, 5, of Lebanon, N.H., enjoys a fruit pop she had been given by the officers on Aug. 10, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2017

West Lebanon — It wasn’t a siren that blared from a Lebanon police cruiser on Thursday, but the resonant jingle associated with the ice cream truck.

And kids — young and old, tall and small — noticed.

“Is there an age limit?” 20-year-old Cornish resident Blayne Patterson asked Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello between skating in the blazing sun at the Rusty Berrings Skatepark in West Lebanon on Thursday afternoon.

“Come on over,” Mello replied while handing out Hoodsie Cups and ice pops.

That scene was not a one-off: Lebanon police recently outfitted a cruiser to mimic an ice cream truck, and will be handing out ice cream to children throughout the summer in what they say is an effort to promote community policing.

“It is a ‘break-down-the-barriers’ type of program,” Mello said this week of Ice Cream Patrol. “It allows us to have a conversation and meet people.”

Both Lebanon and Hartford police have launched the initiatives, which afford officers the ability to interact with children in a neutral setting, much like Coffee With a Cop sessions are geared to having adults talk to police informally at local coffee shops or convenience stores.

“It gives us the opportunity to work in a different capacity and build and foster relationships,” Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said this week.

The two departments have slightly different approaches: Lebanon police are visiting neighborhoods across the city at random, while Hartford officers are concentrating their time in more densely populated areas where they experience high call volume.

The hope is that children — and adults — who sometimes see police in an enforcement-type situation can see officers in another light. Starting those relationships at a young age could even prevent calls in the future, Kasten noted.

Several Hartford police officers on Thursday went to Twilight Court, a subdivision south of Route 4 in Quechee, and, according to photos on that police department’s Facebook page, it was a hit. Lebanon police also visited Romano Circle, Rivermere and Ela and Winter streets.

Kasten said Hartford’s program, which doesn’t have a formal name, is an extension of its Adopt-a-School program, where officers go into the schools and interact with students.

Maintaining contact during the summer months furthers that, Kasten said.

Both police departments are using money they have garnered through donations to fund the ice cream programs, so there will be little-to-no impact on the taxpayers, the chiefs said.

Several parents and Upper Valley community members said this week that they liked the idea.

“I think it is pretty cool,” said Upper Valley resident Mike Alford, who recently moved here from Michigan and was visiting the skate park with his son, 6-year-old son Jax. “It’s a positive thing to have good experiences with officers.”

Plainfield resident Amy Proulx agreed.

“I think it is good for kids to grow up and think of the police as being good, friendly guys and girls,” she said.

Lebanon resident Shawn Donovan, who attended a policing forum in the city in May, said he is familiar with the concept of the program as he has seen it in bigger cities, such as in Boston, whose police department in 2010 launched Operation Hoodsie Cup, which follows the same model.

“It seems to me that Lebanon is doing more of these community outreach events and I think they are are effective,” Donovan said this week. “I think it’s a way for the public and police to interact and be more comfortable with one another. Seeing police heavily armed and in intimidating cars isn’t always the best way to develop relationships.”

Although some people said they support the initiative, the idea of police using ice cream as a way to connect with residents in their cities or towns has drawn criticism from some police watchdogs around the country, who say that it’s a gimmick that does little to substantively engage with vulnerable communities.

Mello, the Lebanon chief, acknowledged that some negative comments have been swirling around, with people saying police should be focused on other things, like fighting the drug crisis.

“That is ignorant,” Mello said. “Using this program in the community does not take away one second of enforcement.”

Ice Cream Patrol, like the coffee-centered sessions, will be something officers do in addition to their normal work, he said.

“(These) take nothing away from our core responsibilities,” Mello said.

Though Lebanon doesn’t have a designated ice cream truck like Boston does, the department has made up decals for visibility that are slapped on the side of a cruiser. The department also has purchased a portable freezer that is powered by a 12-volt outlet to keep the treats cold.

Other Upper Valley departments may soon follow Lebanon and Hartford’s lead. Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate said he had never considered the idea but is now thinking about ways he could implement it in his community.

“I wish I was a kid in Lebanon,” Crate joked.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.