October 18, 2021

Police make “presents” known

Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

City police officer Joe Peters (left) hands passenger Monica Michael (right) a toy bear Monday morning, as part of the city police's initiative of pulling drivers over for traffic violations and giving them a gift card and toy instead of a ticket.

Newbia, Fatima and Monica Michael were heading Monday to Perkins Restaurant and Bakery to celebrate Monica’s 60th birthday when Cortland police officers Tyler Williams and Jesse Abbott pulled them over on Port Watson Street for having a headlight out.

“We were like, ‘Oh my God, what did we do?’ “ Monica Michael said. It wasn’t what she thought. “She (Newbia Michael) saw him with bears and I was like, I want one, and next thing I know he was knocking on the windows.”

The group also got a gift certificate. It was part of the police department’s second annual event where officers stop drivers for committing minor infractions and instead of giving them a ticket, give them a gift card. This year they handed out 10 $25 gift certificates, and some stuffed bears.

The inspiration for the event came to Abbott, the community oriented policing officer, after seeing another police department’s video. In the video the officers would ask drivers what they wanted for Christmas and then have other officers at a nearby store waiting to pick up the items.

“It was amazing how fast they were able to do all of that in a short amount of time and still be able to surprise the occupants in the car,” Abbott said. “Unfortunately, our department does not have any money budgeted for the community policing position, so everything I do is based off of donations. So, I had to think of something I could do with the limited funds available.”

Right around this time last year as Abbott was driving into work he got the idea to give out gift certificates instead. He wrangled donations for the effort.

Officer Joe Peters pulled Donna West over Monday on Clinton Street for failing to stop at the stop sign at Greenbush and Elm streets.

Peters said West was nervous and told him she hadn’t gotten a ticket in a long time.

“I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I write you one?’ and she said, “You should cut me a break because it’s Christmas,’” Peters said.

So, Peters did just that and gave her a gift certificate instead of a ticket. West was flustered, but smiling.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing being done,” she said. “It’s cool.”

“That just made my day,” Peters said, as he got back in his patrol vehicle.

Peters said he likes when he is able to go up to people, have a conversation and sometimes even make their day.

“It gives us a chance to be more personable with the public,” Peters said.

Abbott said handing out the gift certificates serves a few purposes. It brings people downtown, but it also shows officers care about the citizens.

“We understand that the holidays can be hectic and a bit stressful, so this little something can help build new relationships and strengthen existing ones between the community and the department,” Abbott said.

It’s also a stress reliever for officers. They field about 15,000 complaints a year, so the event gives officers a break from some of the things they handle on a daily basis, he said.

“The officers need the positive interaction as much as the citizens need it,” Abbott said.