MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Nearly a decade ago, two Minneapolis police officers had a simple idea: hand out free bike helmets to kids as a way to connect to the community.

Over the years, the Bike Cops for Kids program has grown.  The two officers who oversee the program now have a truck full of helmets, treats, and books.

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Minneapolis police officer Mike Kirchen is one of the founding officers behind the program.

He spends his work days biking throughout the neighborhoods knowing the bicycle makes him more approachable.

“Being a cop on a bike and going into a community, it’s a phenomenal way to police a community,” said MPD Officer Mike Kirchner. “MPD cops are working really hard in the squad cars and they don’t have time to just stop and talk to kids.  They try to but they’re just so busy in the squads.”

(credit: CBS)

His goal is to establish relationships with youth in the community. He and fellow Officer David O’Connor spend most of their time in north Minneapolis and areas of south Minneapolis.

“We try to stay in higher crime areas is where we want to connect with kids,” Officer Kirchen said.

“It’s important for them to meet us when things are going well so getting out on our bike, it’s finding them in yards and parks and giving them a positive experience,” said Officer David O’Connor.

To help facilitate that community engagement, Officers Mike and Dave give away bike helmets, water bottles, treats and even free bikes.

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Last summer, they added another freebie when they partnered with the Little Free Library.

The charity organization gave the officers a bike with a Little Free Library attached to the back.

“It’s been received well. We fill libraries that we find that are empty,” Officer O’Connor said.

A couple times a month, the officers also take the mobile library into neighborhoods to give away books to kids.

On Monday, they stopped by Lucy Laney at Cleveland Park Elementary school in Minneapolis.

Nearly a dozen second graders picked out books and also received a free snack.

The freebies offer an easy introduction that leave a lasting impression on the community.

“The way to do this is through the kids,” said Officer Kirchen. “When grown-ups see the positive interaction with kids, they like that and they want to be part of that and meet us.”

Bike Cops for Kids is now a year-round program within the department with two designated officers.

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The program is privately funded year round.  If you’d like to donate go to their Facebook page or click here.