Positive reinforcement – that’s the ticket!

Masha Scheele

On a sunny day in Hinton, one local kid strapped on his helmet and grabbed his bike for a ride around his neighbourhood. As he pedalled along he suddenly saw blue and red flashing lights out of the corner of his eye.

A little beep of the horn notified him to pull over, and as a Hinton Peace Officer got out of his vehicle and walked over the kid said “hi, am I doing something wrong?” 

The officer replied, “I just pulled you over to talk to you and give you a positive ticket.”

“Oh, was I speeding?” responded the kid, “how fast was I going?”

Receiving a ticket from an officer is not something the majority of people enjoys, but Hinton’s youth may feel differently about the positive tickets handed out over the past four years. 

“Peace officers wanted to do some public education with the youth and be more engaged in the community with the youth. These [tickets] are for kids that are riding their bike with a helmet, using a crosswalk, using a helmet with a skateboard, or picking up garbage. Friendly interactions,” stated Todd Martens, Protective Services Manager in Hinton.

Each year, peace officers and RCMP are on track to hand out around 200 positive tickets for doing active or safe things in Hinton. Once kids receive these tickets, they come with their parents to the fire hall where their name is entered into a draw for an iPad and they get to pick a prize, which range from youth passes at the recreation centre, or the trampoline park, to coupons for sundaes at Dairy Queen or A&W burgers. 

“Originally we started with not too many tickets. Below 100, then the next year it climbed to 120, and then now it’s around 200,” said Martens.

“That’s a lot of interaction between our peace officers and our community. They do school patrols in the mornings and in the afternoon, in the evenings they patrol the bike park, or the skate park, and that’s where they go and speak to the kids. Talk to the kids about active healthy lifestyles and that kind of stuff.”

In one case, Martens said, community peace officer Ben Sharpe wrote up a positive ticket for a 10-year-old boy outside of his family’s home, which upset the boy as he figured that this would ruin his chances of getting into college.Sharpe explained it was positive, and that he would even get a prize.

“That prompted us to do a little bit more public education, a little bit more facebook media stuff and with the town to say peace officers aren’t just out there writing tickets, they’re writing youth positive tickets,” said Martens.

“It’s not always a negative thing why an officer may stop you, it may be for public education or to help you out.”

Two years ago, officers started carrying extra helmets in their vehicles of different colours and sizes to give to kids who aren’t wearing one and the program further evolved to include new bikes.

“We have a linked bike program. Kids are able to come in if they don’t have a bike or their family doesn’t have the funds, then we size you for a bike and we have bikes out back that are brand new, from little ones to big ones. That’s kind of how the positive tickets spiraled a little bit more. It’s been good to have that interaction with the kids,” said Martens.

Currently, officers have no more helmets available but they have applied for another Traffic Safety Grant to fund the program. 

“That’s how we got the helmets to begin with. We’ll be applying again for that grant this fall and then we should have enough again to buy for two years. Every couple of years, every two years we get another 50 to 60 helmets and use those,” said Martens.

“We’re trying to run it all on grants but there is a little bit of money in my budget to print the tickets.”

Martens added that they are also looking into the Canadian Tire Kickstart program to cover the bikes 100 per cent, while before they received deals from Canadian Tire. 

“It has kind of evolved, but the main idea is that interaction with the kids and rewarding them for being safe,” stated Martens.

“It builds that trust with the kids and that’s what we want. For them to trust us and they can come to us if they had to, or flag us down if something was wrong.”