Big Trucks, Little Kids, Horses and Dogs: Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Friday, August 16, 2019, 4:30 am
By: 
Brad Minor

The chance to teach kids to trust, and not be afraid, of safety vehicles and law enforcement personnel is one of the reasons why East Lansing Police Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez looks forward to the annual National Night Out and Touch-a-Truck event.

But it’s also just a really fun time for everybody involved.

At this year's event, on August 6, East Lansing community members got a chance to interact with emergency services personnel and other workers while heavy-duty vehicles took over the library parking lot.

“The unique thing about this event is it’s multidisciplinary: [it includes] Public Works, the police, fire department, library staff, and even CATA. It gives people – and especially kids – the chance to see all of them at once,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the event is especially important to the police department and his officers because of the type of interaction it allows them to have with the community they serve.

“Generally, police work and law enforcement work is really high-stress,” Gonzalez said. “We deal with some very serious issues day in and day out that can take a toll on officers.”

“With this event,” he explained, “they get to interact with kids in a very low-key, no-stress environment at an event that is geared towards kids. It puts [kids] at ease right away and it allows them to see different aspects of the police department so they can learn about us and we can have good, friendly interactions with them.”

Gonzalez said kids usually have two favorite things at the event: “The big, mean, red firetruck, and, of course, our police canines are always a big hit.”

ELPD’s rookie K9, Caesar, was at this year's event to keep the kids entertained. He is assigned to Officer Staci Sterner, who joined the force in 2017. Officer Justan Horst (below left) was also on hand to introduce guests to Ares (below center), a dual purpose utility/explosive K9, who has been on duty since May 2015.

Bethan Cantwell said it was the library’s involvement with the event that made her bring her daughter out to it.

“It's important to be a part of community events like this and I really appreciate everything the East Lansing Library does,” she said.

As for the “big, mean, red firetruck,” it was manned by East Lansing Fire Department Lt. James Ladiski and two of his colleagues.

“The biggest thing is for the children to understand that we’re here to help and for them to not be intimidated by us and the big trucks,” Ladiski said. “By far the thing they like most here is getting to sit in the front seat of the fire truck and pretend like they’re driving.”

Above: A young attendee tries out the driver's seat of a fire truck.

One of those kids was Lilly Dexheimer, daughter of Tom and Beth Dexheimer. She said the event was special to her because “it brings our neighborhood together.”

National Night Out is a nationwide event that has been happening annually on the first Tuesday of August since the early 1980s. The first annual National Night Out involved 2.5 million neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states.

Above: The wheels on the CATA bus go round and round (but not while parked).

The event was first organized by the National Association of Town Watch, which is a group that promotes police-community partnerships.

According to the National Night Out website, “National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live. National Night Out enhances the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a true sense of community. Furthermore, it provides a great opportunity to bring police and neighbors together under positive circumstances.”

Photos by Raymond Holt.

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