When Mountaintop police officers and rescue workers decided to participate in National Night Out three years ago, their goal was to form positive community relations and to establish a bond with area children, showing them that policemen are the good guys, not to be feared but to be trusted and relied upon.
At the Aug. 1 event this year, it seemed that goal had been met as children of all ages and families by the dozens, many who’d attended the National Night Out event in Wright Township before, packed the grassy field behind the police station and fraternized with local heroes.
Little kids excitedly ran to greet police officers and try on their equipment; brothers and sisters both high-fived volunteer firemen and climbed onto their giant red trucks; and, for a highlight of the evening, scores of children jumped and pointed in awe as a Life-Flight rescue helicopter circled the field and then dramatically landed near the crowd.
After introducing himself to wide-eyed children, impressed by his uniform, Fairview Police Officer Jim Banos noted of the event, “It’s good getting to know everyone in the community and letting the kids here make a positive connection with the police.”
Many information booths were set up, not only by police and rescue workers, but other community organizations, such as the local Boy Scouts, the Rotary Club, and the Kiwanis Club, along with food and other entertainment vendors.
Firetrucks from every local department, along with ambulances and other emergency-service vehicles were parked alongside the event grounds, for children to see and explore. Boys and girls alike marveled at the equipment, especially the fire trucks that were opened with volunteers nearby to explain about their rescue equipment.
Children were also allowed to open and peer into police cruisers. Six-year-old Tommy Elick III was very interested in exploring the police cars and his dad, Wilkes-Barre Township Police Officer Tom Elick Jr., was happy to show his son the particulars of the vehicles.
“We live down the road and we come out every year to check it out and support these guys,” related Elick Jr, who added that his son may follow in his footsteps as he has a strong interest in the work of policemen and first responders.
It could be that other children who attended National Night Out may grow up to seek careers in law enforcement too as so many seemed interested in seeing the tools policemen use and learning more about those items.
With a display table of his equipment, used in situations such as for an active shooter or felony warrant arrest, Brad Bygall, of the Pa State Capital Police, made those tools –from axes and gas masks to rifles and grenade launchers –seem less scary as he patiently explained their uses to visiting children.
Miles Johnston, at two years old, was hesitant to come too close to the equipment, so Bygall knelt down and showed the boy his flashlight and whistle, which the little boy seemed to enjoy. Eight-year-old Julia Barr was a little more courageous, requesting to try on Bygall’s bullet-proof vest. She giggled as the weight of the equipment nearly toppled her over and Bygall helped her keep her balance as he explained the parts of the vest in detail.
“It’s a great thing building relationships with the community,” stated Bygall. Connecting with children like this is his favorite part of National Night Out, he noted. “This makes us more human because we can connect with the kids,” he said. “A lot of time in the city, we’re made out to be the bad guys. Events like this are nothing but good…Kids see us with protective vests and helmets on TV and think bad things are about to happen. Here, we can explain to them that our protective gear is to keep them safe.”
Officer David Allen, of the Pa Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Protection, returned to National Night Out with his tracking dog Skye, a gentle Labrador retriever who was recognized by many children who were at the event last year. Skye posed for photos with several kids and gave a delighted few kisses on the face.
Skye, who is also Allen’s family pet, does wildlife detection for the Game Commission and is often called in by local police for tracking and evidence detection. With a nose that can pick up scent 400 times better than a human’s, Skye has been used, among other things, to find missing persons or objects. While a drug-sniffing dog can detect drugs, Skye can detect a human scent on anything the police are seeking, such as phones or firearms.
Of the event, Allen commented, “It’s good to get all of us out here with the public. We can show people we’re just like you guys and we show kids that Skye is just like a puppy at home, but that she also has a job.”