(Portage, IN) – 8-year old Sam Stone of Portage gave a thumbs-up after sitting in a police car for the very first time.
His mother, Jenni Shelton, also brought her three teenage daughters who seemed to especially their visit with a full-blooded lab police dog.
The family was among a few hundred people who showed up Tuesday for the annual National Night Out event hosted by the Portage Police Department at Founders Square Park from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Shelton said her goal was teaching her children not to fear the police and show them “they’re good guys. They’re on our side.”
8-year old Dylan Trudeau also of Portage looked thrilled to be inside an armored police rescue vehicle.
He described the experience as like being in one of his favorite superhero cartoons.
“I haven’t seen too many things that are actually bulletproof,” he said.
Also popular was the department’s mobile SWAT Command Center with a machine gun, remote control robot, infrared cameras and other specialized equipment used in hostage and other major situations.
A mobile crime scene unit, all-terrain police vehicles and a fire department ladder truck were featured, too.
Officers casually mingled with the crowd and answered their questions as they stopped by each of the displays.
Free hot dogs fresh off the grill were also served along with cold pop and bottled water.
Cindi Leeper of Hobart took pictures of her two-year old son, Noah, smiling after hugging and petting Odin, a K9 with the department.
The dog's handler, officer Roger Peele, also welcomed the interaction especially with the children.
It’s not what he usually experiences working midnights on the streets.
“I don’t get to be around a whole lot of kids in good situations so this is great,” he said.
National Night Out typically held the first Tuesday in August was delayed nationwide this year because of COVID-19.
Social distancing and masks were part of the experience.
Sgt. Rob Maynard said the purpose of the event is more than just taking a stand against crime.
It’s about enhancing or developing bonds between police and the citizens they serve by showing officers are no different from anyone else.
“We’re all part of this community. I grew up in Portage. My kids are going to school here. We’re not a separate force that just roams the city. We’re all in this together,” he said.