LAWRENCE — The sight and sounds of an ice cream truck evoke images of sunny days, neighborhood baseball games and bike rides.
A new truck, stocked with free ice cream, seeks to remind children and adults alike that police are there to partner with and help them.
“This is just more of our overall policy to get more involved with the community,” police Chief Roy Vasque said.
With four flavors of ice cream on board, police brought the new truck into the Arlington neighborhood on Thursday evening as part of their ongoing “community engagement program.”
At the Arlington School, kids flocked to the truck for a cold treat from officers. Other officers walked through the neighborhood, introducing themselves, knocking on doors and giving out contact numbers for the police department.
“A bunch of kids came right over for ice cream,” said Vasque, obviously pleased with the truck’s maiden voyage.
Purchased with $9,000 seized during city drug raids, the ice cream truck was repaired by students at the Greater Lawrence Technical School. Local businesses then jumped on board, donating lights and lettering, the actual ice cream and funds to keep the truck going.
“This is costing taxpayers no money,” Vasque stressed.
He wanted to use the drug raid money for the truck “because it takes something negative and turns it into something positive.”
The truck falls in line with the department’s other community engagement programs, like walking beats, mountain bike patrols, senior citizen outreach events, a business liaison officer, neighborhood association meetings, open gym nights at city schools and more.
“Anything we can do to get officers out of cars and into the community,” Vasque said.
In all community engagement efforts, officers stress a desire to make the city better and safer.
“We all need to be on board and running in the same direction,” Vasque said.
“There are 80,000-plus residents. We can’t do it alone. We need them with us,” he added.
The police-run ice cream truck is not unique to Lawrence. Vasque said there are others run by Massachusetts police departments.
Police in Milwaukee, Wisconsin have an ice cream truck so large it rivals a mobile command center used for large-scale emergencies, he said.
Last year, police rented ice cream trucks for some community events. It costs them roughly $300 each time.
“We wanted to take it a step further,” Vasque said.
On Thursday evening in the Arlington neighborhood, the debut of the ice cream truck helped nail down at least one crime tip.
“Someone showed us a video of what appears to be a violent crime,” Vasque said.
He purposefully described the tip vaguely for the resident’s protection but noted, “We are going to follow up on it.”
This spring and summer, Vasque said to look for the ice cream truck during community engagement events in various neighborhoods and meetings with community groups. He also said there will be “impromptu” appearances around the city.
Also, Vasque said he understands there are city businesses that do sell ice cream. Their new truck is not an attempt to put anyone out of business.
“We just want to use this randomly in different places and engage the kids,” he said.
Private and business donors for the truck are welcome, he said.
“So far it’s been all positives,” Vasque said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.
Police ice cream truck sponsors
Brush Stroke Sign Design
Greater Lawrence Technical School