On sizzling summer days, one local police officer does more than patrol the streets fighting crime. Brooklet Police Officer Tracy Atkinson makes the sweltering days a little more pleasant for folks she encounters - she is the "ice cream cop."
That is what she calls herself, although most times it's popsicles she hands out to area children. She even carries dog treats in her pockets for any furry friends she encounters on her daily patrols through the streets of Brooklet.
The sweet gesture began when Atkinson found herself the recipient of a box of cold treats. A vendor, switching out merchandise and with some leftover product that was still good but approaching a "best sold by" date, asked whether she wanted them.
"I thought he meant 10 or 12, but he gave me a box of 100," she said.
It didn't take long for Atkinson to decide what to do with the frozen snacks.
As she patrolled, she passed out smiles and popsicles, keeping them packed in dry ice in the back of her patrol car. She has given the treats to adults, but her favorite "customers" are kids.
In a time when tensions are high and negativity surrounds law enforcement; in an era when some parents use the police as threats to make recalcitrant kids behave, Atkinson wanted to show a positive side of policing. Police officers aren't the enemy, she said.
"I decided to make meeting people as more of an encounter," she said. "I posted on Facebook that I was doing this, and people caught on and started yelling at me all day, looking for me."
When Atkinson announced on social media that she was making her rounds, many posted back asking her location.
When the original batch of sweet, icy treats were gone, Atkinson didn't want the fun to stop. She purchased more. It looks like the "ice cream cop" idea may become a regular endeavor.
Funded by the city?
Soon, the new outreach to the community could be funded by the Brooklet Police Department. Chief Doug Meyer said he has discussed the idea with Atkinson, and plans are to include the "Ice Cream Cop" project in the department's budget.
"She lucked up and ended up with a bunch of ice cream," he said. "Knowing Tracy and the way she thinks, she says ‘I can use this.' "
The project is a great way to utilize community oriented policing, Meyer said. The response from Brooklet residents has shown this.
"People really think this is (a good community outreach) and this makes them see us in a different light," he said.
Atkinson doesn't hide the fact that she loves people, loves her job and loves her community.
"This is my way of giving back, so people don't think cops are bad," she said. "Sort of showing the softer side."
In recent interviews about the dangers of policing today, Atkinson said she has considered her own mortality and "stays prayed up" as controversy over police-related shootings and attacks against law enforcement officers continue to appear in media reports.
Being the officer that brings smiles and camaraderie is a more pleasant situation, she said.
Now that school is in session, Atkinson makes sure she is around when kids get out for the day so she can distribute popsicles.
"The kids get excited. People were surprised at first (when she approaches offering ice cream and popsicles) but then they say ‘you know, thanks for what you do. Be safe out there.'"
She has been carrying dog treats in her pockets for a while now, a habit that came about long before the ice cream cop idea arose. Atkinson always enjoyed striking up conversations when meeting people walking their pets. Now, the gesture goes even further.
Being more than a ticket writer and crime fighter helps make people realize law enforcement officers aren't unfriendly, she said. "We're humans. We have feelings and emotions, too."
Both she and Meyer hope the gesture helps bring people even closer in a community where law enforcement has traditionally been a positive element.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.