Fla. PD adds sweet new vehicle to its fleet

Chief Mike Balken says he hopes the 'Polar Patrol' will help build community relationships with local kids

By Austin L. Miller
Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.

OCALA, Fla. — Karter Levertte had a big smile on his face Thursday afternoon as he ate his vanilla fudge. In between bites, the 6-year-old Eighth Street Elementary School student said he loves ice cream.

Karter; his 10-year-old sister, Kennedy James; and more than a dozen other children had an opportunity to pick their choice of free ice cream on Thursday.

Before the eating began, Tara Woods, a retired Ocala Police Department major and community liaison coordinator, told the children from the Boys & Girls Club who gathered in the police department's parking lot that she was there to introduce the Polar Patrol to the community.

Within minutes of Woods pointing toward the roadway, Police Chief Mike Balken, joined by Mayor Kent Guinn sitting in the passenger seat, drove up in a small mini-van. The colorful van with cartoon characters dressed as police officers holding popsicles, had the familiar musical sound of an ice cream truck as it made its way toward the children, who were screaming with joy.

Addressing the children and adults in the audience, Balken said the idea of adding an ice cream truck to his agency's fleet was the brain child of Scott Hackmyer. The chief said Hackmyer believes the the police and the community can come together and have discussions over ice cream.

Balken said he wants to use the ice cream truck as a way to engage with the children in the community and to let them have an accurate perception of the police. He said they exist to partner with the community to build relationships that can eventually lead to solving problems.

A retired Marion County school principal who serves on the board of several organizations, Hackmyer told the Star-Banner that he heard about the concept two years ago in Douglasville, Georgia. Thinking it may work here, Hackmyer said he mentioned it to the chief.

Shying away from the praise, Hackmyer said the real glory should be given to Balken and Woods who "ran with it."

"I want the community to see the police as a friend, and not as an enemy," he said.

He said the ice cream truck could be used to build lasting relationships.

Guinn said he will ride around in the ice cream truck and hopes everyone can come together to work toward a common objective.

"Lets go eat some ice cream," Guinn said, eliciting a loud cheer from the children who gathered outside police headquarters, 402 S. Pine Ave.

Balken said the truck and its accessories were given to OPD by anonymous donors who want to see the plan work.

The chief said the goal is to drive the truck to different neighborhoods throughout the city three days a week. Members of the agency's command staff will be driving the truck. At times, other officers will drive the ice cream truck.

Eating her Nestle Dibs, Kennedy said she loves going to the Boys & Girls Club because it's fun and she learns something new each time. As for getting her ice cream, Kennedy said she did not want to miss it.

"I was pretty excited," she said.

Both Kennedy, also a student at Eighth Street Elementary, and her brother said one day they want to become police officers.

"I want to take care of the community," Kennedy said.

Her brother said, "I want to help the city."

Once everyone had their ice cream, the truck rolled out from the parking lot and made its way to Parkside Gardens Apartments, located not far away, to treat other children.

(c)2021 the Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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