‘You’ve been busted for doing the right thing’: Hannibal Police Department initiative rewards people with ice cream

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Allison Hamm, an officer with the Hannibal Police Department, awarded Kasen Hill, left, and Aiylinn Gower with citations for free ice cream for having a lemonade stand and helping their mom with a garage sale. | Photo courtesy of Hannibal Police Department

HANNIBAL, Mo. – When Aiylinn Gower, 6, and her brother Kasen Hill, 4, held a lemonade stand and helped their mom with a garage sale, they had no idea the Hannibal Police Department would show up to issue them a citation.

Aiylinn and Kasen were among the first kids to receive a “ticket” from the Hannibal Police Department’s new initiative to reward good behavior. The citation reads “You’ve been busted for doing the right thing!” It rewards the recipient with a free ice cream cone from Sonic.

HPD officers are handing the citations to children and adults who they see being responsible or doing the right thing. 

The smiling faces of officers and people found doing good things in the community now are regularly featured on the Hannibal Police Department’s Facebook page. One child was recognized for wearing a helmet while on her bike. Another example was two adults helping someone in need get resources.

Hannibal Police Chief Jacob Nacke, chief of the Hannibal Police Department, said the initiative has been a good way to help officers connect with the community. 

“Generally when people call us, it isn’t because they are having a good time, so we don’t often get people at their best. We get people at their worst,” he said. “This is a nice chance for our people to experience the brighter side of things.”

Nacke, a 17-year employee at the HPD, said relationship building breaks down stigmas.

“When you see a police officer and see the badge, it’s all designed to be authoritative. The badge and shield is a symbol of protection,” he said. “At the same time, it might make people more hesitant to talk to officers. It breaks down that barrier a little bit.”

Officer Allison Hamm, who has been at the police department for more than five years, approached Nacke about the idea. Hamm did the legwork for the program, creating the citations and reaching out to Sonic.

Hamm found the idea on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Facebook page. Conservation agents hand out citations for free ice cream cones when they spotted someone following guidelines or doing something good.

She saw it as an opportunity to connect.

“I want better relationships with the community and for people to look at us like we are not just here to arrest everyone or give out tickets,” she said.

Hamm has noticed some people are afraid when an officer pulls up. She recently responded to a call about disruptive children at an apartment complex.

“As soon as I got there, three of them took off running,” Hamm said. “I yelled at them, ‘Hey, you don’t need to run. I am just here to talk to you!’”

She hopes handing out the citations will change that.

The citations are for all ages, but Nacke said positive interactions with youths can plant seeds for future officers.

“Some of these situations can help us find more police officers down the road. We have talked to some people while doing our hiring, and they’ve said I have met this one officer who was at my house for this, and ever since then I wanted to be a police officer,” he said. “I remember some of those instances. I didn’t think it was anything special, but to them, it had a real impact.”

While the police department has events to connect with people, such as Coffee with a Cop when officers sit at various places to chat with people, Nacke says staffing is a challenge. The department also is experiencing an officer shortage.

The positive citation program is an organic way for officers to connect while on duty.

Ashley Gower, Aylinn and Kasen’s mom, said the positive contact with Hamm was a surprise and gave the kids a positive example of law enforcement.

“Just being rewarded by someone in law enforcement meant everything,” she said. “When you have someone like Officer Hamm who goes above and beyond for anyone, who you can look up to and loves to be involved in the community, it just makes you have that much more respect for law enforcement.”

Hamm said she became an officer to help people. 

“Even if someone is having a bad day, and they call and ask me to go out to their house and talk, I am willing to do that,” she said. “I tell people all the time that I wear many different hats. If it’s a counselor one day, I can sit there and listen. I hope people can look at us like that.”

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