By MARA H. GOTTFRIED, Pioneer Press, July 8, 2017
Photo: St. Paul Police Officer Jason Bain practices hand signals with Angela Namatali, 10, and talks to her about bike safety as part of a new program called Bike Cops for Kids at St. Paul’s Conway Rec Center on June 29, 2017. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)
In many ways, Jason Bain’s patrols are the same as other St. Paul officers, but he also has a unique perspective as he patrols on two wheels. He’s one of the department’s few seasonal full-time bicycle officers and he pulls a small trailer on the back of his police bike.
The trailer is meant to carry two small children, though Bain has found another purpose for it: He fills the carrier with helmets that he and other officers hand out to kids.
Bain proposed that the St. Paul police department begin regularly using bike officers in the Western District last summer and this year he’s increased outreach efforts by starting the St. Paul Bike Cops for Kids program.
On the surface, the program is about safety — giving helmets to young people and encouraging them to use them, along with teaching them bike safety tips. The deeper goal is for officers to connect with young people on their own turf in positive interactions, Bain said.
“A lot of kids don’t ever want to wear a helmet because it’s not ‘cool,’ so if we can convince the kids, ‘Look at us, we showed up in bike helmets, why not you?,’ ” Bain said. “If we can get a percentage of the kids to keep their helmets on when they’re on their bikes or their scooters, it’s a win.”
Bain and fellow bicycle officer Andy Kempe also are certified bike mechanics and can help kids with simple bike tune-ups, if they need them.
The St. Paul Bike Cops for Kids initiative started in mid-May and officers have given out more than 100 helmets, which are donated by Children’s Minnesota.
St. Paul’s bicycle officers also have been distributing helmets at the police department’s weekly Safe Summer Nights barbecues, junior police academies and St. Paul fire department safety fairs.
At last week’s police barbecue outside the Conway Recreation Center, 5-year-old Landon Wynn wanted to stop to meet the bike cops. Bain asked him and his 4-year-old cousin, Codie Betancourt, if they had bike helmets. Codie said they did, but hers was too small.
“Do you want a new one that fits your head?,” Bain asked. “Come on over here.”
Bain showed Krista Wynn, Codie’s mother and Landon’s aunt, the proper way to fit the helmets, including how to tighten them in the back and how to get the right fit in the chin strap.
“I think it’s awesome because I would have never known that,” Wynn said afterward. “I would have just put the helmet on, clipped it and said, ‘OK, go ride your bike.’ ”
Before the kids headed out, Officer Kempe compared his police bicycle helmet with Landon’s new helmet.
“You’ve got yourself an official bike helmet,” Kempe told the boy. “It looks just like mine and fits just like mine.”
The officers also told the kids that if a St. Paul officer spots them riding their bikes while wearing helmets, they could be ticketed — but in a good way. The tickets are for a free ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.
In addition to running the Bike Cops for Kids program, Bain is an International Police Mountain Bike Association instructor who trains other officers in becoming bike officers.
The seven bike officers ride 15 to 25 miles a day, in neighborhoods throughout the Western District in the spring, summer and fall, Bain said. Kempe and his police partner especially focus their patrol efforts in the Snelling-University avenues corridor.
Bain modeled the St. Paul Bike Cops for Kids program after a Minneapolis initiative that was launched in 2009, and contacted officers there for guidance.
The officers with Minneapolis Bike Cops for Kids give out at least 1,000 bike helmets to kids each summer, said Officer Mike Kirchen, one of the program’s founding members.
Through donations, the Minneapolis Bike Cops for Kids also have a truck — outfitted with a basketball hoop on the side, a big-screen TV, a freezer full of donated ice cream, and 200 bicycle helmets inside — that they take out to hang out with kids in neighborhoods and at community events.
“A lot of these young kids, they see police work going on in North Minneapolis — cops arresting someone or chasing a car,” Kirchen said. “We want to come to them, so they can see some positive police work and show them the police are good.”