ELKHART — The Elkhart Police Department hosted Night Out Against Crime on Tuesday evening. The fourth annual event gives the public a chance to interact with police officers in a casual environment.
Held at Civic Plaza and Central Park, the event featured 30 booths, which gave information on topics ranging from how to identify the ingredients of meth to how to make sure your home is secured properly.
Other groups that had booths included the YMCA of Elkhart County, Tolson Center, Ryan’s Place and iFit, which came out to spread the news about what its organizations can do for the community. All of the evening festivities, from the snow cones to the Ferris wheel, were free to the public. Children’s activities included mini golf, bouncy slide and getting their fingerprints taken. Police officers mingled among adults and children, answering questions and offering suggestions.
Sgt. Wayne Bias of the Elkhart Police Department said it’s important to bring in other organizations that can give vital information to people, especially at such a large gathering. “It’s their opportunity to reach a lot of people,” he said.
Bias estimated that there were about 1,000 people coming in and out during the five-hour event. He said part of the purpose was making sure people feel comfortable enough with the police that they can call if they see or hear anything that might be worth reporting. “It’s no bother,” he said. “We’d rather come out.”
It’s important to introduce children to police officers in a relaxed and casual environment, Bias said, because normally their first interaction is a confrontation they witness between an officer and a loved one. Even if it’s something simple like a traffic violation, children can remember that negative experience. “We’re their friends,” he said.
There were about 50 officers at the event. Some of them were off-duty, while others were assigned. Bias thought more people were at this year’s celebration and credited the high turnout to good weather.
One of the many booths was a drug information booth, showing different kinds of drugs behind a class case with pamphlets on how to say no. Sgt. Jeff Easton, who is part of the Elkhart Police Department drug unit, said many of the questions people had were regarding meth and how to recognize if someone might be making it. There were pamphlets for both landlords and social workers for how to recognize potential ingredients and for children on how to avoid being pressured to try drugs.
Easton said many of the parents came up to the booth to show their kids how to recognize different kinds of drugs and to avoid them.
Tanisha Dale, whose husband is a firefighter with the Elkhart Fire Department, said she’s come to the event every year. For her it’s more of a chance to socialize, but Dale said she recognized the importance of the event to the community. It helps the city department form a bond with people, she said. “It’s so the kids can feel comfortable with city workers,” she said.
Tammy Stewart brought her two sons to the event to show them that cops aren’t bad. She planned to stop by the drug recognition, drinking and bullying booths. “I want them to know (drugs) aren’t OK,” she said.