Polar Patrol serving more than ice cream

Most times, when someone comes in contact with a police officer, their day is probably not going according to plan.

Unless, of course, they’re getting an ice cream treat from Holland’s Polar Patrol.

Part of the Holland Department of Public Safety Police Operations’ Community Policing Team, the ice cream truck is one way to connect with community members young and old in a positive way and to “humanize the badge," Community Policing Supervisor Sgt. John Weatherwax says.

“We aren't robots,” he says. “We're people, and we invite people to engage us in just a simple conversation. We don't want our relationship to be based only on enforcement."

The Polar Patrol ice cream truck visits community events around Holland throughout the summer, giving kids, especially, positive experiences with police officers. This year, the team has been to 57 events and given out 8,900 ice cream treats. Another 6,400 treats are still scheduled for upcoming events. And three more requests for Polar Patrol visits came in last week.

Community support

Meijer really came through when the original ice cream sponsor had supply chain problems that prevented it from participating this year, Weatherwax says. The local grocery giant made sure Holland’s Polar Patrol had 20,000 individually sized treats to hand out to kids.

Request Foods provided cold storage space for the four pallets stacked 8 feet tall with ice cream.

Breaking down barriers

“It's been amazing to have this ice cream truck and to connect with the community in this way," Weatherwax says. "When we go to an event with an ice cream truck, we break down barriers between the police department and the community.” 

Even the Community Policing Team uniform is about breaking down barriers. It isn’t the starched dark blue standard issue police uniform. The colors of the bicycle-style jersey are brighter, the fabric softer.

The Community Policing Team has four dedicated officers. Each one is responsible for a different quadrant of the city. Each one attends community events and meetings, and is responsible for proactively creating relationships with people, organizations, and schools in their district. Their time is dedicated to forming lasting bonds with the community, Weatherwax says.

Ice cream and COVID

Weatherwax was a community policing officer, himself, for 8.5 years before taking up leadership of the unit in March 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the country.

The Polar Patrol ice cream truck was open July to September 2020. There were fewer requests than in years past, but still enough to keep officers busy, Weatherwax says. This year, they started rolling out the frozen treats in May.

Community police officers often do respond to calls, however, if they already have a personal relationship with someone involved, Weatherwax says. 

“We generally like to think of our whole department as community policing, but we have four dedicated officers,” Weatherwax says.

Every officer in Holland Department of Public Safety Police Operations undergoes regular implicit bias training.

Other programs get the community involved in police training. 

The department’s Junior Police Academy, which gives middle school students a peek into police operations, just wrapped up. The 2021 Citizen’s Police Academy — aimed at giving adults the same opportunity — will begin next month. For more information or to apply to join the free program that gives residents an inside look into the operations of Holland’s police, visit hollandpd.com.
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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.