Children wearing bicycle helmets while riding or rolling in New Albany are following the law -- and they could be rewarded with a sweet treat.
This summer, the New Albany Police Department is partnering with Johnson's Real Ice Cream, which opened May 1 at 160 W. Main St., to equip officers with coupons for free ice cream cones they can give to children they observe wearing helmets.
Per a law that went into effect April 14, 2016, children in New Albany are required to wear helmets while riding bicycles and using other forms of recreational transportation -- or they and their parents could face a fine.
Police could give a warning to anyone under 18 riding a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or any "low-horsepower motorized vehicle" or using roller skates without a helmet. Second offenders are subject to a $25 fine and then a $50 fine for each subsequent offense.
Since the law's inception, officers have not had any second offenders, said police Chief Greg Jones.
During the first few months in 2016 that the law went into effect, police didn't keep any statistics on how many warnings were given out, he said.
But in 2017, from mid-July to mid-August, officers made contact 19 times with children wearing helmets and gave them coupons for free ice cream cones at Dairy Queen, Jones said. Meanwhile, they issued warnings to nine children who were not wearing helmets, he said.
"Word spread particularly fast," Jones said.
He said parents who didn't know about the helmet law were informed by others via social media.
As part of the effort, officers take into account how they approach children and practice safe habits themselves, Jones said.
When officers stopped to speak to children about the helmet law, they tried to do so while they also were on bikes, Jones said. Pulling up in a police car could be traumatic for children, he said.
Officers in patrol vehicles have ice cream coupons, too, but if they want to reward children wearing helmets, they typically park and get out of the cruiser, he said.
The goal, he said, is to educate through positive reinforcement rather than by damaging children's opinions of officers.
During the summer months, the department's school resource officer, Ryan Southers, and the DARE officer, Leland Kelly, schedule bike patrols, Jones said.
A third officer is also undergoing training to provide bike patrols during the department's second shift, he said.
While the good-behavior incentives are new for New Albany, they are not to Johnson's.
Johnson's Real Ice Cream's Bexley shop at 2728 E. Main St. has partnered with Bexley police officers on a similar coupon program for close to 10 years, said Matt Wilcoxon, Johnson's president.
Because of the success of that program, reaching out to New Albany police made sense, he said.
"The timing was perfect in New Albany," Wilcoxon said.
The store manager at the Dublin Johnson's shop at 55 W. Bridge St. reached out to the Dublin Police Department about bike helmet coupons, as well, he said.
Dublin is looking into setting up a program with Johnson's, said Cameron Keir, a Dublin police spokesman.
For several years, Dublin has had a partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital and Dairy Queen to offer similar coupons, Keir said.
For Wilcoxon, the program in Bexley and now New Albany is a way to show the community that police departments want to enforce safety in a positive way.
"I think this is a really positive thing that they're able to do," he said.