For many people, interactions with law enforcement are typically an unwanted occurrence that happens during stressful times, especially as the topic has become a hot-button issue in society.
Throughout Grays Harbor County, residents were able to get a chance to interact with their community’s law enforcement through the annual National Night Out program. The country-wide event, which originated in 1984, typically takes place the first Tuesday in August and is designed to give law enforcement and the communities they serve, positive interactions and commitments against crime.
With National Night Out wrapped up, these are some of the highlights that took place in East County, as well as the inner Harbor:
McCleary: The city of McCleary hosted its annual National Night Out celebration in Beerbower Park, as upward of 200 people could be seen enjoying the warm evening weather and interacting with members of the McCleary Fire Department and Police Department.
Demonstrations, such as Jaws of Life and police K-9 exercises, were provided to show residents the work required by law enforcement agencies in McCleary. Raffle prizes and booths were available for people to participate in, as well as free food and beverages supplied by law enforcement.
Jeff Gear, who serves as the Fire Chief for McCleary Fire Department, said while National Night Out typically focuses on the police department interacting with the community, a lot of positive impacts can come from learning about all emergency services.
“Normally on National Night Out, the fire departments aren’t involved but we’re all working together, and I think it has a great impact on the community around here for people to see the tasks we do that don’t get a lot of attention,” Gear explained.
Elma: The city of Elma held its National Night Out festivities in Gladys Smith Park, as members of the Elma Police Department and East Grays Harbor Fire and Rescue cooked free hot dogs and hamburgers for residents to enjoy. Specialty food and drink booths were also set up for people to enjoy.
The event focused heavily on family-friendly vibes, as kids had the choice of enjoying an inflatable bounce house and slide, hanging out with mascots, and practicing using a fire hose on a pretend fire under the supervision of the fire department.
Officer Carlos Garcia, who was handing out shirts and stickers to guests on behalf of the Elma Police Department, said it’s important for people in the community to get to know the individual behind the uniform and get to know each other.
“This celebration provides an opportunity for people to get an inside look and ask us questions, outside the uniform, they might have especially since most interactions we as law enforcement get are from people who are not in a good mood,” Garcia said. “Community outreach programs like this are important, especially in today’s climate of how some of the population views policing.”
Montesano: The city of Montesano did National Night Out a little bit differently, as people were instructed by the Montesano Police Department to host block parties and ingrain themselves closer to people. Registered block parties were visited by local law enforcement in order to talk to and answer any questions from the community.
Jeff Simon, a Montesano resident attending the block party cookout on the opposite side of his street, said National Night Out is a great way to see how law enforcement feels about the community.
“Honestly, I know a lot of people who tend to think the cops only care about having a badge of authority, but the people who I’ve talked to tonight are different than that,” Simon said. “It genuinely seems like law enforcement in Montesano cares about the well-being of the people here and they were happy to talk in-depth about how procedures work and getting the job done as safe as can be.”
Simon went on to say there should be more events than just National Night Out to help build trust between the people and law enforcement.
Aberdeen: Those who showed up at Sam Benn Park enjoyed sharing a table of food as they ate, and interacted with McGruff the Crime Dog, Aberdeen Police Department officers, and Aberdeen Fire Department personnel.
April Boling, who lives rdown the street from the park with her husband Lowell, said she loved seeing their old neighbors and new people who moved onto their block.
Boling said the neighborly support is real.
“On this end, we all know each other, and we watch out for each other,” Boling said. “We send each other texts to ensure they know of potential intruders.”
Aberdeen Interim Police Chief Dale Green said the party at Sam Benn Park was the fourth party of 11 in Aberdeen that he attended on Tuesday evening, and that he planned to attend every one.
Green described what he likes most about National Night Out.
“It’s seeing everybody on a friendly basis, where they’re not calling 911,” Green said. “It’s good for neighbors to meet up.”
Green was happy to report the event was back to “pre-COVID-19” levels of attendance.
Aberdeen City Council President Kati Kachman brought her son Hudson, who was throwing a mini football around and running along with the other children at the park. She was all smiles.
Kachman said Sam Benn Park is her favorite park in town, and that she loves going there with Hudson.
“We live just down the way,” she said. “This is like my son’s backyard.”
Kachman shared her favorite thing about 2022’s iteration of National Night Out.
“It’s an opportunity to see all the neighbors, especially with the pandemic,” Kachman said. “It’s a chance to see people we haven’t seen in a few months.”
Hoquiam: Betsy Seidel, coordinator for Hoquiam Police Crime Watch, greeted children to the Polson Museum grounds with an irrefutable glow and her stuffed pal, McGruff the Crime Dog Jr. The little puppet dog dressed in the tan trench coat greeted each child with a shake and a kiss, while the children laughed and looked on with pure joy.
Seidel recounted why she attended.
“I love that the community is getting to know each other, the police, and firefighters,” Seidel said. “And know that (police and fire) are here to help.”
Other residents, such as Jess Nations — a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, a longtime Hoquiam resident who’s lived nearby with his wife Louise, enjoyed themselves, too.
It’s an excellent idea to have this,” Jess Nations said. “People get together, share ideas, and try to improve things.”
Louise Nations said she loved being able to visit with her neighbors.
June Holubar’s favorite part was seeing the children have fun.
Kristine Lowder, who paired with Tracy Wilson to put on the event at the Polson Museum, said she loved having the ability to put names and faces together, meet her neighbors, and build community.
“And it’s always fun to meet McGruff, the police, and firefighters,” said Lowder as the life-size McGruff, played by Franklin Cron, entertained children and adults alike.
Lowder said the event was a success and that at its “apex,” which didn’t include when police officers and firefighters showed up, about 40-50 people were in attendance.
Hoquiam Fire Chief Matt Miller said the yearly event is always a good experience.
“It lets our police and fire crews interact with our citizens, give kids tours of our police cars and fire engines, and be able to talk with people in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Hoquiam Police Chief Joe Strong said even if he has a brief interaction with somebody, that it helps.