The Reynoldsburg Community Event Bike -- a black Harley-Davidson motorcycle with custom chrome exhaust pipes and a red and blue underbody light kit -- attracted lots of attention at the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival, especially after dark.
Reynoldsburg police officers set up a tent at the festival both days and talked to interested visitors about the motorcycle, which did what it was designed to do -- attract people.
"We stripped out most of the police stuff and added custom elements, new exhaust and new wheels and tires," officer James Triplett said. "We want to take it to public events like festivals and cops and kids days to help bring the community and our police officers a little closer."
The retired motorcycle was headed for the scrap heap last winter until Triplett and Sgt. Mark Moser decided to ask local businesses if they wanted to help support the creation of an event bike to foster community relationships.
Several responded, donating a total of about $2,000 to turn an old motorcycle into a show bike.
"I was amazed at how excited people were to help us out," Moser said. "We had really good and positive responses from local businesses and organizations. We've also had requests to display the bike at their events."
The motorcycle was set up at the Tomato Festival in front of a banner naming the sponsors, including the Fraternal Order of Eagles and Reynoldsburg VFW Post 9473, both of which donated $500.
Other sponsors were Target, Walmart, Columbus Car Audio, Iron Pony, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill, Prographix, Local Boys Automotive, Robey's Pub, Smart Stop Valero and Bikes 2NV.
Moser said the idea to customize the old motorcycle came from the popularity of the department's new Motor Unit, established last spring.
He said people noticed and came up to talk when officers rode their police motorcycles to more than 40 organized events in Reynoldsburg and around Columbus in 2013.
"We want to draw people to us and we hope to use the event bike as a tool to open up communication in a non-enforcement role," Moser said.
He said the department wants its police officers to play two roles: law enforcement and community relations.
"We're hoping to show up at about 50 events this year," he said. "If another law enforcement agency has a cops and kids event or any kind of community event, we'd like to be there."
Triplett said the best part of his job is watching kids' eyes light up when they come up to ask about the motorcycle.
"We want people to come up to us at these events," he said. "When they come up and talk about the bike, they may also talk about other things in their community or things they are afraid to talk about in another setting."
Moser said talking to the local businesses about donations also brought officers closer to business owners and their concerns about their neighborhoods.
In addition, he said, the project has been good for police morale.
"I never have to ask twice for volunteers to show up for these events," he said.
The Reynoldsburg Motor Unit has five staff members: Moser, Triplett and officers Tim Kessler, Jeremy Severance and Dan Downing. Its primary mission is traffic control to promote the safe and efficient use of city streets by both motorists and pedestrians, Moser said.