Wadsworth police Officer Kyle Haas looked around the vast Target parking lot where hundreds of families came to see law enforcement and safety vehicles up close Tuesday night.
“The thing I enjoy most is the kids,” said Haas, who is a member of the Medina County SWAT team and was answering questions about Wadsworth’s SWAT vehicle parked nearby. “Their faces are so bright.
“I’ve had at least 10 who said, ‘I want to do what you do.’ “
Wadsworth and Medina Townships were two county communities that participated in National Night Out, an evening of interaction between families and law enforcement and safety forces. The program originated in the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1984.
Police Chief Dave Arbogast had two major fears with the Cookout With a Cop event.
“I was afraid no one would show up or we’d get so many people that we couldn’t handle them all,” he said during the cookout at the police station, 4877 Fenn Road.
About 100 people showed up.
Arbogast said he hopes it will become an annual affair.
“It’s a community outreach to get to know the community better,” he said. “I’m big on community. I’m very happy with the turnout.”
He thanked business sponsors Walmart, Your Truly restaurant, Santo Suossos and Quaker Steak & Lube, which donated food.
Others who supported National Night Out were Heartland Community Church, Grace Baptist Church, Medina County Drug Task Force, Medina Fire Department, Erhart/York Township Fire Department, Montville Township police, Cleveland Police Museum and the Ohio Peace Officer Training.
Two popular attractions at the event, other than the free food, were the Taser exhibition and the firearm simulator. Officer Cliff Nicholson tased patrol officer Justin Harvey, much to the delight of many of the children.
Officer Travis McCourt said the simulator is a teaching tool for township officers.
“It allows you to come in and be a police officer for a minute and see how fast things evolve,” McCourt said.
A Taser handgun sends a signal to the computer screen and lets one know where it hit. It forces the need to make split-second decisions.
National Night Out “helps people connect with the police department,” said Strongsville Officer Dave Warren, whose family lives in the township.
The Target store at 1183 Williams Reserve Blvd. dedicated about half of its parking lot to National Night Out.
A variety of fire engines and police vehicles were spread yards apart to allow children easy access.
Wadsworth At-large Councilman Dave Williams said officials look forward every year to the one-night event.
“It’s a chance to showcase the departments and get kids involved,” he said.
Police Officer Matt Markley estimated 50 law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel were in attendance to answer questions and help with demonstrations. A table was set up near a free hot dog stand where the Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties was distributing information.
Firefighter and EMT Adam Copley said he enjoyed answering questions about the ladder truck that had its extension raised 100 feet high, plus the department’s new engine along with a pumper, tanker and an educational trailer.
“It’s a ‘touch-a -ruck’ event,” Copley said. “This is our chance to show people’s faces behind the (safety) masks. A lot of the time when we’re out of the station, we’ve got a job to do.”
Copley described the department’s mission succinctly: “We put wet stuff on red stuff.”
Children’s activities in the parking lot included a simulated agility test, where they made a forcible entry, held a squirting fire hose and dragged and carried equipment while being timed with a stopwatch. Children received certificates for their efforts.
Wadsworth Director of Public Safety Matt Hiscock said he gets excited about National Night Out every year.
“It’s a chance to engage with the people we serve. It has tremendous appeal. The turnout shows how much people care.”
The human resources manager at the Target, Carol Bosley, said about 25 to 30 store employees were on hand to assist with the event.
The store brought out a grill and prepared 1,000 hot dogs for a crowd that was estimated to be more than 1,000.
“The best part is talking to people,” Bosley said.