ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis police have a question to ask as they take their new truck into neighborhoods: One scoop or two?
Police Chief Sam Dotson calls it "Operation Polar Cops," a truck that will give away ice cream treats at various events at parks, community centers and schools, part of an effort to improve community relations. Police say the goal is to provide a "fun environment for citizens to have positive interactions with our officers." The truck, retrofitted to look like a typical ice cream truck but dressed in police blue, was unveiled Tuesday.
"Operation Polar Cops is a unique tool to reach our youngest citizens," Dotson said. "The goal of this project is simple. It's about introducing our officers as positive role models in a fun environment."
St. Louis police, like many other police departments in the U.S., are trying to soften the often tense relationship with the community it serves. Police in St. Louis have frequently been the subject of protests following fatal shootings of suspects, especially in the two years since Michael Brown's death in nearby Ferguson.
Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. A grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned from the force in November 2014. But the shooting led to months of protest in Ferguson, St. Louis and elsewhere, raising awareness about concerns in the black community about treatment by police.
Earlier this month, police in Wichita, Kansas, hosted a cookout to promote dialogue between law enforcement and the Black Lives Matter movement. Nearly 2,000 people attended, an event deemed so successful that Police Chief Gordon Ramsay was invited to the White House to discuss community policing.
Dotson said the St. Louis program was inspired by a similar outreach by Boston police, Operation Hoodsie Cup, which began in 2010.
The ice cream truck was purchased by the St. Louis Police Foundation. Prairie Farms Dairy and the grocery chain Schnucks donated more than 6,000 treats.