Laurel youth may find themselves getting ticketed this summer, but they may not mind these citations as city police are giving away Slurpee coupons in exchange for good behavior.
For the second summer in a row, officers will be on the lookout for children being good citizens — wearing a helmet while riding their bicycles, obeying traffic signals and listening to their parents, said Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin. The “tickets” are part of Operation Chill, a nationwide program 7-Eleven has been running since 1975.
“It’s a positive interaction between police and children,” McLaughlin said. “Kids love Slurpees.”
Lt. John Hamilton said that last summer, officers in the city’s three-person community policing unit started handing out the coupons to groups of children at the city’s pools and shopping centers as a way to familiarize them with the program. Soon, he said the free Slurpees became an incentive for children to do something good in their communities.
“Once the word was out what the purpose of the certificate was, the kids were then following the rules,” said Hamilton, who worked as an officer with the community policing unit last summer and is now in charge of it. “They were more inclined to just be good and do the right thing.”
Children riding bicycles would approach officers to show them they were wearing their helmets, and those on who skateboarded would go to the skate park instead of practicing in parking lots.
“They would report things like missing bicycles,” Hamilton said. “They would report missing dogs.”
Tara Lucas, 10 of Laurel, who was playing a game during the after-school program at the Laurel Boys & Girls Club on June 13, said she had not heard of Operation Chill but she does like Slurpees.
“I think it would be a nice idea for helping out people,” Tara said. “I would spend it, but if someone never had a chance to have a Slurpee I would give it to them.”
Hamilton said the Slurpee incentive fits right in with the mission of the community policing unit, whose main objective is to enhance communication between officers and residents by attending community events, checking on businesses and interacting with children.
“Our primary function is to be proactive in the community,” Hamilton said. “It gives you one more reason to be interactive.”
Last summer, Hamilton said he spotted a boy who was around 10 years old helping an older woman load groceries into her car. Hamilton then asked the boy if he knew the woman, and the boy said he did not, but could see that she was struggling.
“I actually stopped the kid and gave him a certificate for helping her out,” he said.
Police handed out about 500 certificates last summer and expect to have about the same amount this year. The program begins June 23 and continues until the certificates run out.