Valparaiso transformed into one big neighborhood Tuesday evening with the annual National Night Out. The word “neighbors” took on a whole new meaning with 11 different locations in Valparaiso offering the chance to meet those living around you, as well as those protecting the area in which you live.
The national campaign has been encouraging communities to come together for years, forming relationships between law enforcement and residents. For both children and adults of Valparaiso alike, the night created a positive way to interact with police officers.
“The night gives us an opportunity to sit down, talk with people, talk with the kids,” said Sergeant David Smith. “The kids get to see our cars and our dogs and they get the opportunity to ask us questions they don’t normally get to when we’re working. It’s nice to just take a little bit of time away from our duty job to hang out and let them talk to us.”
Instead of handing their license and registration to an officer through their car window, residents are able to open their yards to the public and hand over hot dogs and hamburgers at block parties.
“This is all to let them know that we’re out there to help them,” said Smith. “We want them to know that if they need something, they can come to us. We’re not out there always chasing bad guys.”
Making their first stop at 6:30, law enforcement made their way around town, stopping at Keystone Commons, Campbell St. Cafe, Essex Park, Parkside St, Trinity Church, as well as others.
“We had a great turnout here with our officers,” said Sergeant Michael Grennes, Community Relations and Public Information Officer. “This is one of those events that our officers love to do every year. We have officers from our patrol division, tech division, the canine unit, the bike unit, our volunteers in police service. We just enjoy doing this kind of stuff and coming out in the community and meeting people.”
At Trinity Church, neighbors enjoyed live music, games, and the Valpo Viennas cart.
Trinity Church Council Member Tom Muchesko said, “We wanted to participate in this event because we are right here in the neighborhood. We are a good neighbor. I think it’s good when neighbors get to know one another. It makes it feel like home opposed to just a place that you live. It’s important that law enforcement comes out to show people that they are part of the community. They’re not the enemy.”
Six-year-old Alastair had an especially good time in Trinity Church’s parking lot. After hopping out of a police car, he said, “The officer let me see how the lights work and press two buttons. It was really cool.”
The evening offered fun, as well as a bit of inspiration for the future. Alastair said, “I’m going to be a police officer first, then a restaurant owner, then probably I’ll just not do anything for a few months.”
Alastair also brought a note for the officers that evening, setting a great example for the rest of the community.
He said the note was about “how I like them and stuff like that.”