With police and community relations in the national spotlight this year, a Henry County evening of music, entertainment, costumes and uniforms helped attendees put faces behind the badges.
Children and adults alike chatted with public safety officials Oct. 26 during National Night Out at the Henry Town Center in McDonough.
Tiny superheroes gathered candy, danced to music, activated lights and sirens on officers’ and deputies’ motorcycles and gaped as a fire department ladder rose in the air.
“We participate every year,” said Sgt. Jimmy Spence of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office. “This is a good time to meet the public.”
Spence said the sheriff’s office display, with its photos, videos and junior sheriff badges, gives attendees a casual setting for conversing with deputies.
“Maybe we can address some issues they have and hopefully enlighten them and they can enlighten us,” Spence said. “It’s a good interaction between us and the public.”
Sgt. Anthony Militello of the Henry County Police Department’s community oriented policing services unit agreed.
“We try to bridge the gap between the two and make it a positive interaction and something that could bring out the community to get to know us,” he said.
Militello organizes the county’s annual event, a tradition more than 10 years old.
“It’s been an ongoing thing that takes place nationwide,” he said.
Its origins go back to 1983 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the National Association of Town Watch observed the first Tuesday in August as a night to build neighborhood camaraderie.
Henry County altered that script in 2016, scrubbing the mid-summer heat for harvest and Halloween.
“It’s a better time of the year. We can incorporate the fall festival theme and the trunk or treat activities,” Militello said. “We had a bigger turnout and our vendors appreciated it because it wasn’t so hot,”
Vendors had a more temperate environment in which to give away cool treats like ice cream cones or hot food like barbecue samples.
Some booths featured prize wheels with coupon giveaways for later consumption.
15th Street Pizza Pizzeria co-owner Patrick McHugh said he and his wife Katie staffed their booth personally to meet their customers.
“They made us who we are and we want to give back as much as we can,” he said.