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Ice Cream with a Cop

The Charlottesville Police Department’s summer outreach program engages citizens in discussion

<p>As part of a summer outreach program, Charlottesville police officers are meeting citizens in public parks on the weekends to answer questions and dispel the stereotype of police becoming militaristic. </p>

As part of a summer outreach program, Charlottesville police officers are meeting citizens in public parks on the weekends to answer questions and dispel the stereotype of police becoming militaristic. 

What brings people together better than free food? Free ice cream. This was the inspiration behind the Charlottesville Police Department’s new summer program, Ice Cream with a Cop. On weekends throughout July, August and September, citizens have the opportunity to show up, eat free ice cream and get wrapped up in conversation with police officers.

The new program aims to facilitate communication between the public and the police. Local ice cream truck Mobile Delicious provides the ice cream, while police officers provide the conversation.

Officer Annmarie Hamill, one of the organizers of the program, said the idea for the program came from an unexpected source: an elementary school student.

“One day the Student Resource Officer actually spoke with an elementary school child who mentioned it would be nice to have ice cream with a cop,” Hamill said. “So we just took the idea and ran.”

The Student Resource Officer was unable to track down the student and say thank you for the creative idea.

“[The officer] went back [to the class] and asked the [students] which child had brought up the idea,” Hamill said. “It had been a while since she had spoken with the class, so they all wanted to take credit for it. We never figured out who suggested it, but I’m sure they've been out there.”

Regardless, the mystery-student’s idea blossomed into a program spanning the Charlottesville area. Lt. Steve Upman, the liaison to the public for this event, worked to schedule meetings throughout the city to ensure as many people as possible could attend.

“We’ve tried to select the majority of the city parks to allow residents from different areas of town to come out,” Upman said. “Not everybody can make every event, or some may not have access to transportation, so we are trying to provide the opportunity for every citizen to come out.”

While there has been attention on the University this past year regarding the injury and arrest of Martese Johnson by ABC officers, Hamill said the program was not developed as a response to any particular event.

“[Ice Cream with a Cop] is just a social gathering where citizens can chat with police officers from their community and bring up concerns or questions that they might have,” Hamill said.

Upman reiterated the importance of this dialogue to prevent the formation of stereotypes.

“I think one of the biggest stereotypes is the portrayal of police as becoming militaristic…” Upman said. “The equipment that we have, we have it for a reason. I think it is important to have that dialogue with communities so police can explain to people the equipment they have and why they have it.”

While these events facilitate communication between adults and officers, for Hamill, the most rewarding part has been the positive response from the youth.

“My favorite part is taking the kids over to my vehicle and answering any questions they might have,” Hamill said. “The kids are so important and they are our future. I think its great that they are out here asking questions and they are so excited.”

So far the program has had two events — the first was on July 25 in Belmont Park and the second was on August 8 in Forest Hills Park. The police will host four more Ice Cream with a Cop days this summer — August 15th in Washington Park, August 19th in Meade Park, September 12th in Green Leaf Park and September 19th in Tonsler Park. 

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