Janesville National Night Out a chance for kids to meet 'heroes'

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, August 5, 2014

JANESVILLE—The biggest run-in with the cops anyone had at Janesville's National Night Out came early on Tuesday night.

At about 5:45 p.m., an announcer at the meet-a-public-safety-officer event said a little girl in a ponytail and purple “Hello Kitty” shirt had wandered away from her grandmother in the crowd of about 2,000 people.

Cops were everywhere at the event. They quickly located the girl.

All other police action was staged at Tuesday's Night Out, which was in its sixth year along Jackson Street near the police station downtown.

For instance, 10 SWAT officers rolled up the street in the department's armored BearCat vehicle, behind a police K-9 patrol car that was tailing a car with two armed “suspects” inside.

An officer unleashed Karo, one of the Janesville Police Department's two K-9 dogs. The dog took down “suspect” A in the middle of the street, as “suspect” B ran off toward a mobile police trailer at the end of the street.

“Suspect” B waived a fake handgun and screamed “Get away, coppers!” as the crowd ooh-ed at the whole scene, and a dog shook Suspect A's padded arm in a toothy death grip.

An 8-year-old girl giggled, watching the arrest from crowds lining the curb.

“That's what police dogs do?” she asked.

Later, the SWAT team took care of “suspect” B with a flash-bang grenade and a tactical submission hold.                     

The mock arrests were a key part of the event, showing children and residents how local police do their work. It all was free—plus you got a hotdog and chips if you wanted.

The local event is one of hundreds of National Nights Out that have been held throughout the U.S. since 1984. It is funded and organized mainly through local business donations and the city's police and parks and recreation departments.

The idea is for residents and their families to get face time with local law enforcement officers and firefighters in a setting that's laid-back and social.

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore was handing out police badge stickers at one of dozens of themed booths Tuesday.

Moore said his first real contact with police was when he saw a cop in Janesville scoop a little girl off train tracks while a train was bearing down on her.

“I was 10 years old at the time. I thought, 'I want to be a hero like that,'” Moore said.

Moore said if he had not been in the right place at the right time, he wouldn't have witnessed the cop's action. He might never have understood what cops and firefighters face serving the public. And he might not have become a cop.

Moore said for him, the city's annual Night Out offers a valuable opportunity—for kids to meet police, to know police and to be familiar with what they do.

“As a kid, when I'd see that police squad car pass, it was intriguing. But it was a neutral kind of intriguing,” Moore said. “You'd see them (police) at work, on the road. It wasn't a fun environment, and maybe more intimidating to see them. This, tonight, is fun,” he said.

City organizers say the event has grown since it started at Traxler Park about a decade ago. It now includes K-9 and SWAT arrest mockups, a fun run and dozens of booths with youth and family-oriented themes.

Neighborhood Development Specialist Kelly Mack said she's watched the event “explode” from its earlier years. Next year, she said, the Janesville Police Department and the Rock County Sheriff's Office are considering banding together to hold a joint Night Out.

She said that could make the event bigger than years before. 

Kyle LeCaptain is a recent Janesville Craig High School graduate and a member of the police Explorers, a new learning partnership between the Janesville Police Department and Janesville high schools. Through the partnership, about a dozen students learn the basics of being a police officer, from tactical takedowns to how to handle tasers.

He was at Tuesday's event, watching groups of kids talk to dozens of Janesville police peppering the crowd. LeCaptain's father, Dennis LeCaptain, is a Janesville police detective.

Kyle said he grew up used to other kids drilling him with questions about his dad's job. He marveled at the scene Tuesday.

“When I was a kid, I didn't even know what it was like for my dad to be police. He didn't talk about it a lot,” LeCaptain said. “Seeing all of these kids just walk up to police officers and casually talk to them, it's just cool.”

Last updated: 8:35 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2014

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