National Night Out lets law enforcement, residents mingle
JANESVILLE When law enforcement personnel and residents mix, it often is a tense situation.
A crime may have been committed, someone might be hurt or a child might be missing.
But National Night Out, an annual, nationwide event, gives law enforcement officials a chance to interact with the public under less stressful circumstances.
"It gets us out of the squad car and makes us more approachable," said Janesville Police Department officer and event coordinator Chad Sullivan.
"I see some people I've arrested and some people I've dealt with out here," said officer Shaun Mahaffey. "It's nice to see them in a situation where they're not so defensive."
Sullivan estimated that roughly 2,000 people showed up to the event, which took place outside of the Janesville Police Department at the corner of Wall and Jackson streets downtown.
The event featured demonstrations from the department's SWAT team and K-9 unit and the deployment of a Taser gun on two courageous volunteers. A fire truck and squad car were on-site for kids to explore. Local vendors and community organizations provided children's games. Approximately 100 people took part in the 5K Run Against Crime.
Sgt. Dean Sukus said both children and adults were most curious about officers' equipment.
"Our radios, the guns, the Tasers, all of it," he said. "That's why the demos are a highlight, because they're a chance to showcase our equipment."
Before Sukus could finish his thought about the opportunity National Night Out provides to educate the public, he was approached by a young girl imploring him to join her in the "Chicken Dance," while the matching song blared from a trailer brought by Rock River Chapter 236 of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Kelly Lee of the city's neighborhood services department and Kathleen Lawver of the Rock County Family Crisis Center offered to meet the business end of a Taser gun as part of the night's demonstrations. Fittingly, Lawver said she felt "stunned" after being hit.
Janesville resident Courtney Howard said she brought her family out to have fun with the games and jump house, provided by First Presbyterian Church of Janesville. When asked whether they had made their way to visit the dogs in the K9 unit, Howard's 12-year-old son, Trevion Moore, answered the question by promptly sprinting to where the dogs were said to be.
Brian Valenzuela, 12, was posing with his family in front of the fire truck for a picture with the rest of his family. Valenzuela translated for his mother, Miriam Magana of Janesville, who said the SWAT team demonstration was a highlight of the evening.
"It was interesting watching the officers show how they breach into the houses," she said.
Russ's Park Place restaurant volunteered the manpower and donated the supplies for 1,600 hot dogs and 600 pulled pork sandwiches doled out for the event. Just over 90 minutes past the 5 p.m. kickoff, the food was gone.