Building relationships and making neighborhoods safer. That was the goal of this week's National Night Out, which brought hundreds out to local parks to meet with police and have a little fun.
National Night Out is celebrated annually on the first Tuesday in August. The community-building campaign that promotes police and community partnerships started in 1984 with 400 communities in 23 states. Since then, the event has grown to millions of participants in thousands of communities across all 50 states, U.S. territories, and U.S. military bases worldwide.
The night provides an opportunity to bring police and community members together under positive circumstances.
At Minooka's Lions Park, dozens of families came out for free games, music, train rides, and a bounce house, as well as hot dogs, refreshments, and snow cones.
"It's a time to get out, get together, and hopefully create some community bonds," said Minooka Sgt. Matthew Chinski. "It's a good chance for the community to get out here and interact with the police. That way it's not always us showing up because there's been some type of disturbance or a call for something. It's to actually show everybody that we can actually work together and accomplish things, have a good time together, show the human side of the police officer rather than just that authoritarian figure that shows up. And, hopefully, have some fun."
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, stopped by the event in Minooka on Tuesday. In addition to tossing a baseball at Police Chief Justin Meyer in the dunk tank, Kinzinger visited with local elected leaders, law enforcement, and families. He said the night is a great way to bring folks together.
"I talked to a police chief up north where I was earlier today, and I asked him about [National Night Out], do you think it's effective. And he said so many people don't know their neighbors anymore. They don't go outside," Kinzinger said. "This is an opportunity to get some of that. Then also, for kids, whether they're old enough to even realize it, to get a good view of police."
In Braidwood, the BPD was joined by Will County Sheriff's deputies at Old Smokey City Park, hosting hundreds for a night of free food and entertainment, including pony rides, a bounce house, a hula hoops station, karate demonstrations, and a petting zoo. Vendors were also on hand with safety information for families.
"It's just to build the relationship between the police department and the community, and I think we're accomplishing that today," said Police Chief Todd Lyons. "It's really awesome."
Families said it was a good opportunity to get their kids out into the community.
"Just to spend time with the family and there are lots of activities for the kids to do, we're just enjoying the park," said Trevon, a Channahon father who brought his kids to the event in Minooka.
In addition to law enforcement from municipal and county police department, National Night Out also featured local fire departments and emergency management agencies.
Learn more about National Night Out and related activities online at natw.org.