Barney Riesbeck, a State Farm agent, set up a booth Tuesday night at Middletown’s National Night Out.
It was his first time attending the event, and it didn’t take him long to understand the purpose of the night that was held at Lefferson Park and Berachah Church.
“The whole message is: You don’t want to be afraid of police officers,” Riesbeck said. “It’s a cultural issue. When you’re a little kid, if you see a police officer, will you run or wave? That starts at a very, very early age. You bring your kids here and they see that they won’t be arrested. (Police) are not bad.”
Children and their parents packed the grassy area between the park and the church under threatening skies. The crowd was estimated at 5,000, and Gold Star Chili at Engle’s Corner, one of the major sponsors, gave away 4,500 hot dogs.
Numerous Middletown area non-profit agencies and businesses had booths set up, and there were representatives and equipment from the police and fire departments. There was entertainment, slides, a hot dog eating contest and a fly-in by Miami Valley Hospital’s CareFlight helicopter.
The entire event was free and open to the public.
“It’s Middletown at its best,” said Middletown Municipal Court Judge James Sherron, who judged the hot dog eating contest.
He said by interacting with law enforcement, those in attendance learned “police are people too. It’s hard for a kid to get a coney from a police officer to hate the police officer.”
Steven Highley, 29, of Trenton, brought his two children, ages 10 and 8, to the event. He called National Night Out “amazing” because it provided a sense of community.
“Everybody coming together,” he said. “You don’t see this anymore.”
Michele Flack, wife of Terry Flack, a retired Middletown police officer, drove from Vandalia to Middletown. She was impressed by the crowd and the commitment from the police department.
“This is way more than I anticipated,” she said after meeting Officer Ryan Morgan and his canine, Chase. “I’m not surprised with how well the police department is doing.”
Community events like Night Out, she said, help remove the “stigma” surrounding police officers, she said.
“It’s easier to relate to people when they’re doing stuff like this instead of putting handcuffs on you and taking you to jail,” Flack said.
In Hamilton, Sgt. Brian Robinson emphasized that the focus of the department’s Night Out event is on the interactions between the officers and the community.
“It’s an opportunity to connect with police officers more as people instead of a uniform,” he said.
This article contains previous reporting by contributing writer Brennen Kauffman.
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