story and photos by Nancy Peevy, special to The City Wire
Blue lights flashed, K-9 officers were on high alert and police swarmed all over The Jones Center on Tuesday night (Aug. 5). The purpose of their presence was not to handle an emergency, but to build relationships with the people they serve by hosting the Springdale Police Department’s National Night Out.
“National Night Out is a nationwide event they do in communities across the United States,” said Lt. Derek Hudson, public information officer for the Springdale Police Department. “It is designed to do two things, build trust between the community and the police; and secondly, it is to try to reinforce crime prevention.”
Hudson said an important aspect of the event is to break down walls between the police and kids, so that the community sees police in a positive way.
“Normally the only interaction with police officers is when something bad has happened. So when we can do stuff like this and kids can see us in this light, it breaks those walls down and it builds trust,” he said.
Connection with the police and the youth of Springdale is important, as is having the event on the campus of The Jones Center, said Mike Gilbert, chief operations officer for The Jones Center.
“It is important for us because The Jones Center is known as a safe environment for kids. The collaboration between The Jones Center, Springdale and the police department is a strong partnership that continues to grow and focus on the youth of our community,” he said.
Letitia Barnes, mother of two children attending the event, said the evening was a success because it helped her children know that policemen and firemen are there to help.
“It was really awesome, my kids got to see inside the fire trucks ... and see inside cop cars,” she said. “They got to go inside the dental place and got new toothbrushes. They had hot dogs and played in the bouncy house and they had a lot of fun.”
The event included a car seat clinic, a bike course, basketball games, a DWI booth, a police car show, a police dunking booth, a fire truck from the Springdale Fire Department, K-9 team demonstrations from the Washington County sheriff’s office, a Naturals baseball inflatable game, a kid identification booth. Security Bank provided free hot dogs and drinks. The event ended with an outdoor screening of “The Lego Movie”.
National Night Out began in 1984 by the National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit organization, and is held in communities across the country.
“From us, all the way to Hollywood, Calif., there’s different police agencies, and they all do it on Aug. 5.” Hudson said.
Gilbert said this is the first year for the Springdale community to have a National Night Out.
“This is the first year we have done this. Lt. Hudson approached me about hosting the National Night Out and we have leveraged it into a big community event.”
Hudson said they expected about 500 people to attend the evening and they weren’t disappointed.