National Night Out teaches children to trust first responders in fun setting

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POSTED: Sunday, October 7, 2012 - 10:34pm

UPDATED: Sunday, October 7, 2012 - 10:34pm

First responders are often associated with bad things, such as crimes, fires, or medical emergencies

The goal of the annual National Night Out program is to change that.

Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics from around East Baton Rouge Parish put on a block party at LSU Sunday afternoon.

There were free chili dogs, lots of candy and toys, and live music. That is not the image most people have of law enforcement, which is exactly the reason why National Night Out has become so popular over the last 29 years.

"Most people see law enforcement guys when they're handcuffing people, or someone done something wrong," said Chris Hodge, with Target, the event's primary sponsor. "And believe it or not, that's not the most important part of their job. The most important part of their job is being in the community."

Attendees got the opportunity to meet the horses of mounted patrol units, pet a canine officer from the LSU Police Department, and witness demonstrations of various police tools.

But much of the focus was on children.

"They can meet the law enforcement and realize that they're the good guys, they're on the good side, and get to know them personally," said Samuel Stokes, who brought his daughter. "That way, maybe they're not so afraid, if they ever need help, they could ask for it."

There were lots of exhibitions, including a rollover simulator and a fire safety house. Kids said they learned a lot, even ideas they won't need anytime soon.

Andrew Savoy said an important lesson is "that it's not safe to drink and drive," even though he is only nine years old.

To grab children's attention, aside from the little toys, there were also big toys, including a fire truck and a helicopter, both of which kids could sit inside.

They attracted people like Stokes, who passed by without knowing what the commotion was all about.

"We saw all the police cars and the helicopter out here, and my daughter was really interested in coming over and seeing the helicopter," Stokes said, "so we decided to go ahead and walk on over."

And the helicopter, along with a few brightly-painted DARE cars and plastic hats, did the job. All those things were entry points for the kids to learn a lesson about law enforcement.

"They're trying to keep people safe," Savoy said.

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