By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — AMESBURY — As a member of the police department’s mountain bike patrol, officer Jason Kooken rides through the downtown all the way to Carriagetown Marketplace via the Riverwalk on a daily basis.
But recently, the 12-year veteran of the force has had some company, namely students from the Amesbury Academy Charter Public School.
Between five and seven students from the Friend Street specialty school, formerly known as the Academy of Strategic Learning, have joined Kooken each Friday for roughly 90-minute bike rides.
For the students, the patrols are part of their curriculum covering physical education to bicycle mechanics. Along the way, students gain a greater appreciation of the police department, learn the rules of the road and even get to check out many of the city’s historical sites, according to Kooken.
“It’s been great. The kids love it,” Academy teacher Eryn Maguire said.
Maguire, who accompanies Kooken and students as they patrol Amesbury, said the program began about six weeks ago as a component of the school’s physical education program.
“We needed to instruct kids on (bike) safety,” Maguire said.
For years, Kooken has considered himself a mentor to many of the students, some of whom have had trouble staying in traditional public education schools and have come to the academy for a final chance at receiving a high school education.
By taking the students out on patrol, Kooken says he is able to fulfill both duties: making sure the city is as safe as possible and advancing his role as a role model.
“It’s really pretty neat, especially during the bike ride. Bicycles are an incredible tool for transportation but also to build confidence and expand their worlds. I’m so happy to do it,” Kooken said.
Academy senior Nicholas Burns is one of the students who have embraced the program.
“Yeah, I love it. It’s something else to do, stay out of trouble. Why not?” Burns said.
The bicycles, 10 of them, were given to the school by Amesbury Skate and Sport on Route 110 as part of a grant, according to Maguire.
Kooken’s involvement with the school began during periodic visits as part of his regular patrols. But the more times he visited the school, the more he became emotionally invested. It got to the point where two years ago, he arranged motivational speakers.
Such an appreciation is welcome news to the Amesbury Police Department, which has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of violent incidents stemming from academy students. In September 2010, a Water Street lawyer was involved in a scuffle with as many as four students that resulted in the attorney sustaining a swollen eye and an injured finger.
Weeks earlier, an Amesbury teen was arrested for disorderly conduct after police responded to a fight in progress outside the Jade III restaurant, just a few doors away from where the attack took place.
In a police report written by officer Kevin Mulrenin regarding the incident, police received numerous complaints throughout the summer regarding disorderly behavior and criminal mischief caused by teens in Market Square. The problem became so severe that it prompted one Upper Millyard business to install video cameras.