All residents welcome to enjoy games, food, more
Community Safety Officer Aaron Sawyer said the annual National Night Out celebration in downtown Rockford has become an event that residents look forward to. The celebration of safety is across the United States each year, but it is the personal nature of sharing time with friends, neighbors, law enforcement officers and having a good time that characterizes the evening.
This year’s National Night Out is Tuesday, August 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the old Northland Pontiac parking lot at the intersection of Maple and Main Streets. There, adults and children can find many things to do and explore. The City of Rockford Fire Department will have trucks on display and allow the curious to see how the vehicles operate. Each year youngsters have a blast in the fire truck mister, which puts down a gentle spray, fun to play under in clothes or in a swim suit. Public safety fire fighters will be minding the grill, cooking up dogs available for a donation, along with chips and beverages. There will be a National Night Out birthday cake in cupcakes, a sweet treat to round off the busy two hours.
Rockford will also have police vehicles, the remote control police car, which mystifies children who usually don’t realize it is operated by a hidden officer, responding to their questions via a walkie talkie. Among favorite activities is taking a free turn at the dunk tank, trying to hit the target and dump a Rockford officer into the water tank with a direct hit. There will also be a snow cone machine working overtime, if the weather is as hot as it has been in the past.
The Michigan State Police will be on hand, as always, with local troopers, including the K-9 trooper, motorcycle patrol units, the Bomb Squad mobile truck, and the Bomb Squad robot. The robot is operated remotely when suspicious packages need to be handled.
An incident some years ago at the Rockford Post Office put the robot in action on Courtland Street, handling a package from afar after the downtown shops and restaurants were evacuated due to the scare. In the worst case scenarios, actual incendiary devices can be loaded by the robot into a secure container where the Bomb Squad can detonate the device without danger.
The Kent County Sheriff Department will be on hand with deputies to interact with the public. Kids and officers make for great photo opportunities and reinforce to youngsters that officers are nice people, not scary. The department will have at least one of its Marine Rescue boats on hand. In past years the department has seized vehicles for viewing that belonged to drug dealers who were caught and had to give up some pretty pricy wheels.
For the first time Algoma Township will be part of the celebration, bringing in one of their fire trucks for kids and adults to admire. Sawyer said he would like to see as many township residents as city ones, as people outside of the City of Rockford still identify this as their town. Rockford Ambulance will be in attendance as well, showing off a medical response vehicle, offering first aid and safety tips and answering questions.
A big part of the evening is visiting the nine Neighborhood Watch booths, learning how residents can be proactive in keeping their own households, as well as their neighbors’, safe. Officer Sawyer said developing the Neighborhood Watch programs has been a long term goal of the department and they really do work. Neighborhood Watch programs can be as elaborate as involving meetings as a group and holding an annual neighborhood party or as simple as keeping an eye out for suspicious situations and letting the police know if something seems off.
Sawyer said the department will assign an officer who will be “their” officer in setting up a Neighborhood Watch group. He said people are often wrongly reluctant to call the police if they aren’t sure if a crime has been committed. He said police would much rather respond to any number of false alarms than have people not call because they don’t want to “bother” the police.
“Give us a chance,” he said. Crimes called in hours or days later usually leave officers with a slim to none chance to catch the culprit, always a frustrating situation for police. Sawyer said everyone can make a difference in crime prevention and safety, from bringing valuables in from the car, to locking doors, to trimming back hedges for visibility to leaving porch lights on at night.
Sawyer estimates 600 to 800 people have been showing up for the National Night Out, and he would be thrilled to have that many or more this year. “We usually have 500 hot dogs and we get rid of them all,” he noted. He said even on the rare times National Night Out has been rainy the turnout is still strong. He said it is neat to see neighbors catch up on their lives, new friendships being made, and people celebrating keeping our neighborhoods safe.
National Night Out was established across the nation as a way for residents to take back the safety of being out of their homes in the evening. It is nationally a deterrent against the fear of crime that in some neighborhoods kept residents locked indoors at days end, fearing violence and crime.
Instead, celebrate how all people can step up against intimidation and celebrate the empowerment of prevailing against crime and violence. Plus it will be a lot of fun. “We are pulling out all the stops, it will be great,” said Sawyer.