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Motorcycles, Bomb Robots, Riot Gear and Snow Cones all Part of 'National Night Out'

Event brings local law enforcement, emergency services in one place to educate the public

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation Police Chief Tim Alford is snagging passersby and talking to them about gun locks.

“So the key is to make sure that your guns at home are secure. So our little ones don't get a hold of them,” he said to a family that approached his table.

“Basically our mission is is to educate the public about gun safety. We have brochures that talked about being a responsible gun owner, making sure that your guns at home are safe. We have some gun locks that were given away to the community.”

If sweets are more your speed , there’s also snacks and snow cones.

As the name suggests, it’s a national event organized by local police departments. In this case, the Evansville Police Department Crime Prevention Unit. It’s held at the CK Newsome Center in Evansville Tuesday, Aug. 2.

EPD departments include the bomb squad and SWAT Team along with the city fire department, county sheriff and others to chat with the public about what first responders do.

“It's all about mingling, and just having fun,” said EPD Public Information officer Sgt. Anna Gray. “I think the purpose is just taking taking a night off from crime and everybody kind of getting together know your neighbors, know your local agencies.”

She said connecting with children is important.

“I think the biggest thing is, when you can build trust with children, a lot of times the adults will stand back and see that, ‘hey, you know what, they're okay, they're talking to my kid and it's safe,’” she said.

Of course Gray said police work isn’t all pleasant. But at least this way they can mee the public out of context, but in a good way.

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Tim Jagielo
A young visitor checks out the EPD Bomb Squad robot at National Night Outs Tuesday night. Operator Mike Ward squirted children with water using the robot's arm.

Bomb Squad Commander Mike Ward is operating the EPDs Andros F6A . It’s 600 pounds, radio controlled, with cameras and it can go up stairs.

Ward is using the radio control arm to squeeze a water bottle at children.

“It's a good time for us to get out and for everyone to see us in a different role, in a good environment as opposed to something that's a crisis. So that everyone can … ask questions and we want to be open with the public and show them all the capabilities that we have,” he said.

Children also sit on motor patrol motorcycles , and check out SWAT team equipment. SWAT team officer Jeff Taylor is letting a child heft their door battering ram and see their riot shield.

Gray said she’s seen the impact of these event on children.

She said, “actually, a little girl came up to me earlier and she gave me a hug. And she said ‘Do you remember me from last year?’”

She said the EPD has cultivated trust in the community. This trust that is important for parents like Hayden Kolodey of Evansville, who has two young children himself.

“Well, I don't want them to be scared. You know what I mean? I always want them to be hoping that the police are helpful in situations,” he said. “Being out here in the atmosphere in general, that's the idea that they get that they grow up with.”

In an era of police conduct and misconduct, manifested in high-profile court cases and jarring body camera footage, National Night Out lets children and families just grab a snow cone and talk to police one-on-one.

Gray was involved in this event for 10 years. She said the EPD tries to be transparent, and that the public trusts them.

"I think the biggest thing is people don't understand how involved we get with family disputes that there's not necessarily a crime," she said. "But we're called a lot to go into people's homes and kind of be a counselor, in a sense, when people are having issues with each other, we still get called to that scene, a lot of times we have to defuse a situation. Most of our jobs is communication, trying to communicate between individuals within a home and just trying to keep the peace as best we can."

“The community also realizes that there's a bigger focus, there's actually a lot of officers who are good, there's a lot of good going on in the community. And I think people actually want to focus on that.”

Gray estimates about 600 visited with local agencies at National Night Out.