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St. Helena kids have had some memorable run-ins with the police lately – and not for the reasons you might expect.

Kids found wearing their helmets while riding their bikes are occasionally being stopped by police and “ticketed” with a gift certificate for the ice cream shop ChoKoLatte. About 10 kids have been rewarded since late November.

“They’re always super-excited,” said St. Helena Police Officer Melissa Brown.

Jeff Farmer got the St. Helena Kiwanis Club involved in the Bicycle Helmet Reward Program, in partnership with the St. Helena Police Department.

Brown said the idea came out of the Coffee with the Cops events at Farmstead and the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company, where people said they were concerned about how many local kids were riding their bikes without helmets, in violation of state law.

One of those concerned citizens was Jeff Farmer, a self-described “bike nut” who’s been in two serious accidents that might have killed him if he hadn’t been wearing his helmet.

“Instead of punishing kids, how about rewarding the ones who are wearing helmets?” he said. “Then hopefully they’ll spread the word to other kids.”

As a Kiwanian, Farmer pitched the idea to the service club as a way to promote bike safety and create positive interactions between police and youth. The club agreed to fund the program to the tune of $600 for the first year.

Brown said officers hand out the gift certificates when they’re on regular patrol and not responding to a call. If they see a kid who’s not wearing a helmet, they’ll leave the parents a voicemail. So far nobody has been fined for not wearing a helmet, and Brown said police don’t plan to do so.

“It’s positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement,” Brown said.

Because of the cold weather, she’s looking into offering gift certificates for pizza instead of ice cream.

“Once we get into the warmer months we’ll go back to ice cream again,” she said.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.