Positive reinforcement

Ferndale police to reward children who wear bike helmets

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 23, 2015

 Ferndale police have partnered with local businesses to reward children like Quinn Music Meron, 6, who wears a helmet when riding a bike, with coupons for free snacks.

Ferndale police have partnered with local businesses to reward children like Quinn Music Meron, 6, who wears a helmet when riding a bike, with coupons for free snacks.

Photo submitted by Sommer Realy

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FERNDALE — A new program from the Ferndale Police Department, in collaboration with local businesses, seeks to reward children for safe behavior and cultivate a positive relationship between police and youth in Ferndale.

Ferndale Police Sgt. Baron Brown worked with the two 7-Eleven stores in town, as well as the McDonald’s on Woodward Avenue, to create the helmet safety program.

When officers see a child who is wearing a helmet while skateboarding, bicycling or riding any other wheeled form of transportation, they are encouraged to issue the child a coupon for a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven or an order of french fries from McDonald’s.

“It is a program intended to get cops out of their cars and kids used to talking to us, so a two-prong program,” Brown said. “We want to build that relationship a little better, as well as reward kids for making a safe, positive choice of wearing a helmet when riding their skateboard or bicycle. And by partnering with two local 7-Elevens and the local McDonald’s, we can provide free coupons.”

Brown said the idea wasn’t an original idea, as he had seen it in other communities, but he remembers growing up waving to cops and being friendly with them. Today, however, he feels kids may fear police, and he doesn’t want that to be the case.

“I am often trying to figure out ways to make us seem less scary and make kids more comfortable talking to us,” he said. “They are afraid to talk to us, and I don’t know where that comes from, but we want to try and defeat that.”

The goal is to not only make it a friendly relationship, but inform children that they can contact the police in case of an emergency, Brown said. He added that he doesn’t want the youth of Ferndale to grow up thinking police are the enemy.

“Obviously, if they are in trouble or have a problem, they have to feel comfortable talking to us,” he said. “We don’t want that feeling of fear to stay with them as they grow up, and that can turn into a disklike for us when they don’t really know anything about the police. Most guys I work with and most cops around the world don’t do it for the money, but to be a positive force in our community, and we want people to see that on a more base level.”

And if the police can create that relationship with children while also helping them practice safe habits, Brown said it is for the better.

When Brown set out to start the program, he said he knew 7-Eleven and McDonald’s would be likely partners, as the owners have always been willing participants in programs that the city has put on in the past.

“We haven’t had a rash of kids getting injured because they are not wearing a helmet, but it is a good practice, and I am going to make my son wear a helmet when he is old enough to pedal a bike,” Brown said. “It is great of our business community, who have always been very supportive of us and the job we do, to help us deliver something to our community. This is a convenient method for us to deliver a deeper message.”

In a bicycle-friendly community like Ferndale, Mayor Dave Coulter said he thinks a program like this will help encourage children to continue to take alternative modes of transportation, as well as be safe on any vehicle.

“It is a great idea and a great way to not only promote safety, but to enhance the relationship between young people and our police officers,” he said. “Positive reinforcement early can go a long way to preventing people from getting in trouble later in life, and I applaud the Ferndale police for a great idea.”

Using positive reinforcement, Brown hopes to make at least a little bit of difference in both safety and building relationships.

“It is proven in almost any type of program that has punitive consequences or not, that positive reinforcement is what works,” he said. “If we send them away happy and smiling, that is going to be a better lesson for them in the long run, because that is a proven tactic to get people to practice better habits.”

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